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 and Serbia, as well as the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
The European Union wishes to thank the Secretary-General for the reports submitted for consideration under this item. The European Union would also like to express its solidarity with all those affected by humanitarian emergencies in the last year. We also wish to pay tribute to the courageous humanitarian field workers that risk their lives to bring assistance to those in need.
Events this year, most recently the humanitarian and security crisis in the Sudan and in the Darfur region in particular, in Chad and in the Central African Republic, have again highlighted the importance of an immediate and coherent response by the humanitarian community as a whole, as well as the need for enhanced cooperation and collaboration with national and local governments.
The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence remain the cornerstones for the provision of humanitarian assistance, as does the need to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law. Through its future Consensus on Humanitarian aid (which we expect to be endorsed by the end of the year) the EU reaffirms that its humanitarian action should be needs-based and respect these humanitarian principles. We also reiterate our commitment to continued support for the central and overall coordinating role of the United Nations in promoting a coherent international response to humanitarian crises.
The issue of access is central to all humanitarian work. Unfortunately, issues of lack of access and obstruction of aid, including bureaucratic obstacles, continue to raise concern. We all have a collective responsibility to guarantee that people in need receive assistance and the EU therefore wishes to strongly urge all governments and parties to conflict to ensure rapid, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and protection of affected populations. We also condemn attacks against humanitarian personnel and once again call on the need to hold accountable those responsible for perpetrating illegal acts. Bringing perpetrators to justice is vital and stronger action must be taken to end impunity.
The EU calls for an immediate end to violence against civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence. Effective measures for prevention as well as for protection and support to victims of gender-based violence must be put in place by Member States. In addition, we strongly encourage the integration of a gender perspective into humanitarian operations.
Regarding refugees and displacement, the EU notes with great concern that the number of refugees around the world has increased this year to almost 10 million. Furthermore, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) continues to grow at an alarming rate almost 24 million worldwide at the moment. We believe that protection and assistance to IDPs should be comprehensively strengthened. The EU therefore welcomes UNHCRs role as a cluster lead in this regard and looks forward to further cooperate with the UN on this issue.
The EU is committed to the advancement of the humanitarian reform agenda towards the promotion of a more predictable and effective humanitarian response.
The EU strongly supports the cluster approach and hopes to see further progress in the roll-out of clusters, both at global and field levels, particularly in on-going emergencies. The cluster system can help bridge gaps in sectoral capacity, avoid duplication, as well as improve response capacity through pooling of efforts and resources. In this context, and while acknowledging that there is always room for improvement, we are pleased with initial feedback from the field and call on a joint effort to inform local, national and regional authorities about the operations and benefits of the cluster approach. We also call on States to respond to the final Appeal for Building Global Humanitarian Response Capacity launched in April of this year.
On a separate point, the Humanitarian Coordinator / Resident Coordinator system is a key to a successfully coordinated humanitarian response at country level. The EU welcomes recent initiatives which seek to strengthen the HC/RC system such as the establishment of an HC pool, as well as better recruitment and training practices.
Recognizing the benefits of effective engagement and coordination of relevant humanitarian actors, the EU continues to support and further encourages the establishment of partnerships with local actors, NGOs, as well as with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. While fully taking into account the specificity of actors and their diversity, we consider that the interaction and close involvement of NGOs, for example, is very important. In effect, non-governmental and community-based organizations are in many cases the first to respond in crises and play a key role in humanitarian response.
The EU believes that roles and responsibilities of actors in the UN system in transition from relief to development should be strengthened, both in situations of natural disasters and complex emergencies. In this context, we believe that the Peacebuilding Commission can make an important contribution to a coordinated response of the UN to states emerging from conflict, as we have seen in the cases of Burundi and Sierra Leone. The EU remains committed to the work of the PBC and looks forward to further work in defining areas of its added-value.
On funding, the EU welcomes the upgraded Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which has played an important role in enabling quicker and more effective responses to humanitarian emergencies. We are pleased to see that over 75 countries have contributed to the Fund and the EU, for its part, remains committed to the stipulated target of 500 million USD by 2008. Regarding the UN Consolidated Appeals Process, we believe further efforts must be made in order to provide more inclusive and better coordinated needs assessments.
Indicators on emerging crises and needs assessments should be prepared in cooperation with other humanitarian actors and should be reliable, accurate and timely. The EU encourages further improved priority setting, including in the Consolidated Appeals Process. UN humanitarian agencies should also develop common mechanisms for compiling and reporting more robust data on humanitarian need, assistance and on the performance of humanitarian organizations in meeting demonstrated needs through the use of standards and indicators. Without accurate data and properly assessed needs, humanitarian actors will be at risk of not being able to provide the most suitable and best equipped response to crises.
In recent years, natural disasters have caused more victims and devastation than man made crises. Just as an example, this year has seen 13 flash appeals for natural disasters, which is three more than the last annual record. According to some statistics, the number of people threatened by natural disasters has increased by three times over the last 30 years and the number of people affected by natural disasters doubled every 10 years. In this respect, we take note of the recent launch in Geneva of the Global Humanitarian Forum and the intention, in the initial phase of its work, to focus efforts on the humanitarian impact of climate change.
Events this year, especially in Africa, have once again brought to our attention the potential devastating effects of natural disasters and highlighted the importance of an urgent and coherent response by the humanitarian community as a whole.
For these reasons and others, the EU attaches great importance in developing and sustaining disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response capacity at all levels. Lessons learned have shown us that, in the aftermath of a disaster, more lives are saved when response teams can deploy immediately, particularly at the local and national levels. To this end, the EU urges States to implement the priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action, as well as to incorporate disaster reduction efforts into sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. Early warning mechanisms must also be improved and expanded as a matter of priority. States must invest more in disaster preparedness and risk reduction.
As stated in the SG report, the impact of heavy flooding in Mozambique in 2007 was significantly less than in 2001 thanks partly to improved community preparedness, the introduction of an early warning system, and improved national and international coordination, including through the use of military assets.
Allow me to take special note of the positive references made in the SG report to the progress achieved in Rwanda, taking into account the special needs of orphans, widows and victims of sexual abuse from the Rwandan genocide. In this context, we also wish to underline the importance of a well-supported solid transition from relief to development.
Finally, and on the issue of the Chernobyl disaster, the EU is pleased to note that the SGs report makes reference to the many efforts and improvements that have been achieved in the past couple of years. As such, we feel that the issue of Chernobyl and its respective GA resolution would be more adequately pursued in the development sphere as opposed to the humanitarian cluster where it is currently placed.
The European Union fully accepts the need to make the international humanitarian response system more predictable and effective. We also encourage further efforts to adhere to the principles and best practices of Good Humanitarian Donorship. The EU will continue to play its part, not only in responding to emergencies as they occur but also in strengthening the international communitys capacity to respond. In this regard, we would like to thank the Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and OCHA for their efforts.
This past year has posed many challenges to the humanitarian community. We have a duty to continue our collective efforts to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response, always to the benefit of the people in need.
* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.