Strengthening humanitarian coordination and disaster relief assistance

Published: 21 October 2003

Mr. President,

For the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), this item brings together some of the most important elements in the world's humanitarian debate. It consolidates the business of many other parts of the United Nations system in a comprehensive way, and from it, directions are set which form the pattern of work of all parts of the United Nations system.

The IFRC and its worldwide network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies draw on the debate and the resolutions, which flow, from it as the basis of our work with governments, international organisations, NGOs and all other actors. Needless to say, we listen to, co-ordinate with and work with many UN partners, especially OCHA, WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP, UNFPA and others. I am very pleased to present to you several issues that are of particular relevance to our work, and indeed for the work of Governments, UN bodies and all other stakeholders. These are "international co-operation", "linking relief to development", "good donorship" and "disaster risk reduction".

International co-ordination

As our President said during the ECOSOC High Level Segment in July this year, we believe that our debate must promote a holistic approach to the issues now confronting the international community. Our experience, however, shows that instead of a properly integrated approach to the programming, delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance, there is often a patchwork of decisions based on considerations, which have more to do with donor priorities than the needs of the vulnerable people themselves.

We are pleased, however, that bodies like the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, in which the IFRC is a standing invitee, is addressing these issues and has shown a resolve to improve both co-ordination and the collaborative approach to response. Next year, for example, the IASC is expected to give high priority to the development of guidelines for humanitarian action in order to reduce vulnerability and protecting livelihoods. The IFRC will play a significant part in this exercise, bringing to the table the experience it can draw from its global network at both national and community level. The diversity of our network, reflected by a significant role women hold in it at all levels, and by equal access to it for people of all backgrounds, makes it capable of supplying the very best of advice and expertise in support of work at the international level.

Linking relief to development

This work should assist the IFRC with another of its key objectives in this debate - the acceptance by all States and other organisations that emergency relief operations must be planned and undertaken with a long-term perspective. Only then will it be possible to link relief with development: addressing root causes of poverty and vulnerability which make people and infrastructure prone to disasters - disasters that keep them trapped in poverty. Empowering
communities is crucial for reaching a level of development, which better prepares them for possible future disasters.

For many years, one of our key messages to this Assembly and other UN bodies has been that too little has been done to address local capacity-building in relief work. Through the IASC, we hope to bring more focused international attention to this area. The arrival of Mr. Jan Egeland as Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs is an important element in this equation, and we look forward to working with him in a strong and co-operative partnership.

We also appreciate the determination of Mr. Egeland and his colleagues to focus - within IASC - more actively on natural disasters. The IFRC has the lead, together with OCHA, of an IASC Taskforce on preparedness and response to natural disasters. The work is aimed at enhancing inter-agency co-ordination and efficiency in the area of natural disasters, and as such allows IASC to resume consideration of what we have always believed to be a vital part of its mandate.

Good donorship

Mr. President,

The development for this holistic approach through work in IASC and other bodies parallels a new and welcome understanding on the part of donors and others that being a donor is not enough - there is an overriding requirement to be a good donor. That is why the IFRC recently took part in the Good Donorship Conference in Stockholm, hosted by the Government of Sweden. It is also why we strongly support work in the IASC to set up its own inter-agency link with the Good Donorship Implementation Group created as an outcome of the Stockholm Conference. The IFRC sees many parallels between this work and other work on humanitarian financing and accountability, and looks forward to contributing to the discussions both as an international organisation and as a body capable of protecting the interests and concerns of beneficiaries.

This concern for beneficiaries is not, of course, new for us. Our network, and its base among some 95 million members and trained volunteers around the world, is widely recognised for its front-line work during disasters, health emergencies and in ordinary life as the promoters of respect for humanitarian values. We are continually strengthening our ability to put that expertise to work so that it directly impacts on the way assistance is programmed, delivered and distributed. We were, therefore, particularly pleased to have been able to be associated with the launch early this year of HAPI - Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International. HAPI, as it is increasingly known, was the outcome of the Humanitarian Accountability Project hosted by the IFRC. Its basic objective is to strengthen accountability towards those affected by crisis situations, and to facilitate improved performance within the humanitarian sector. Its work will be of direct interest to the UN General Assembly, under this and many other items, in the future.

The IFRC has also brought the concerns of beneficiaries forward in many other contexts over the years. This year, for example, the World Disasters Report - the world's flagship publication on disasters issues, published by the International Federation - focused on Ethics in Aid. Among the key messages from the WDR this year is the inequity, which often accompanies assistance programming because of the broad failure of many donors to perform their assessments on the basis of sheer need. These are among the reasons for what amount to grotesque distortions, almost inevitably at the expense of vulnerable people suffering in silence, far from the media and far from political imperatives. That is one of the reasons why the IFRC devotes so much of its attention to the issues of what are commonly (and conveniently) known as "forgotten disasters" or "slow-growth emergencies". We are very pleased that Mr. Egeland is making forgotten emergencies a high priority, and that he will be working with the media to this end.

Disaster Risk Reduction

Mr. President,

It is also vitally important to remind this debate that response after the disaster has struck is not enough. Programmes, including at national level in countries prone to disasters, must incorporate disaster risk reduction as a policy and programme highlight. This has been our priority for decades, and it has achieved the support of States, as was shown in the Plan of Action adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999. But adopting Plans of Action is clearly not enough. There must be a willingness on the part of States to translate their commitments into policies and programmes. The IFRC will be seeking to build that willingness at the forthcoming (December 2003) 28th International Conference, at which governments and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will meet together in Geneva to decide on an Agenda for Humanitarian Action.

The draft Agenda for Humanitarian Action, which is now at an advanced stage of negotiation, includes four General Objectives, one of them stating:

"Minimise the impact of disasters through disaster risk reduction measures and improved preparedness and response mechanisms, by fully integrating disaster risk reduction into national and international development planning."

The three main foundations of this objective are important to state here, for they show the determination of the IFRC and its member National Societies to go forward with this theme over the long term:

by fully integrating disaster risk reduction into planning and policy instruments and implementing appropriate operational measures to reduce risks,

by endorsing the concept and framework for international disaster response laws (IDRL) and implementing appropriate legal, policy and operational measures to facilitate and expedite effective responses to disasters, and

in order to reduce the risks and effects of disasters on marginalised and vulnerable populations.

The second of these foundations, IDRL, relates very specifically to a contribution the IFRC is making to the strengthening of humanitarian co-ordination. General Assembly Resolution 57/150, adopted after the debate on this item in 2002, affirms the interest of the Assembly in the way this project is continuing, and my delegation plans to deliver a substantive report on the issue in time for consideration in 2004. It will be able to encompass the conclusions reached by States and National Societies at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent this year. Without wishing to prejudge the outcome, I can say that through consultations with a very wide range of interested parties and stakeholders we have learned that they welcome the way the exercise is leading towards significant strengthening of co-ordination.

We look forward to the debates that will take place on all these issues at our International Conference in December, and to integrating into our planning the work that will be done here during this debate. We have already taken into account, to the extent possible, of the deliberations at ECOSOC in July, and will remain committed to maximising the value of our participation in all those fora, at global, regional and country levels that contribute to the strengthening of the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance.

Thank you, Mr. President.