Preparedness paid off in operations in Haiti and Pakistan

Published: 15 December 2010

Statement by Mr Marwan Jilani, Head of Delegation, Permanent Observer of IFRC to the United Nation, at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York

Mr. President,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the General Assembly on the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, on behalf of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The scale and severity of some of the recent disasters including the two major disasters that hit Haiti and Pakistan within the same year, have put a lot of strain on the global response capacity of the humanitarian system. Nevertheless, this was not the first time that the humanitarian community had to face such a challenge.

In 2004-2005, the humanitarian community had to respond to two major disasters within the span of less than 10 months: these were the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake of 2005. In both cases, some of the most critical constraints that faced the humanitarian system were the availability of adequate experienced human resources, and the timely deployment of teams and equipments.

For the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and as demonstrated by our response operations in Haiti and Pakistan, the investment in the preparedness and maintenance of a highly trained, qualified and committed national volunteer and staff base, is a worthy investment. In this context, some of our key messages to member states and partners are:

1. Overall investment in risk reduction and preparedness is essential and cost effective in mitigating the human toll of disasters. At the same time, serious investment in the preparedness and maintenance of a highly qualified and experienced human resources, both staff and volunteers; as well as the maintenance of the specialized Emergency Response Units (ERUs) is a critical investment for an effective response preparedness.

2. Supporting and strengthening the capacity of local actors on the ground as the first responders, which can be amplified by international response efforts is the best and most effective model.

3. The availability of “adequate, predictable and timely funding is critical to an effective humanitarian response” as indicated by the UN Secretary General report. The IFRC utilizes a reserve emergency fund known as the “Disaster Relief Emergency Fund” or DREF, which provides for immediate life-saving disaster response. In 2009, DREF was utilized to respond to 96 disasters in every region of the world, which benefited over 20 million people, more than twice the year before.

4. Communicating with beneficiaries is another critical element of an effective disaster response mechanism, as we have learned from these disasters. In Haiti we have broken innovative new ground, in partnership with the private sector, through the use of SMS technology, local radios and social media. Such technologies make it easier to communicate with beneficiaries and engage them where they can fully participate in shaping our response.

Mr. President,

While these large disasters caused great losses and suffering, and have fairly acquired the attention of the media and the public, many communities around the world are suffering the effects of small and medium disasters including slow-onset disasters. These smaller and more frequent disasters are often “forgotten”, they erode people’s livelihoods, increase vulnerabilities, and undermine sustainable development and our collective efforts to achieve the MDGs.

Today the IFRC has more than 52 active appeals representing a need for more than 1.8 billion Swiss franks. These active appeals cover different disasters of all scales and in all corners of the world, such as the West Africa floods, where heavy rains and flooding displaced hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed public infrastructure, and washed away crops and drowned livestock. In the past two months alone, millions of people were affected by floods, hurricanes and other climate related disasters in all regions of the world.

Mr. President,

Finally, Mr. President, we would like to reiterate our commitment to work and enhance coordination with other humanitarian actors including the UN and other international organizations, NGOs and civil society, while emphasizing that our commitment to our Fundamental Principles provide the best available means to gain the confidence of all in order to have access to those in need.

Thank you.