The United Nations Economic and Social Council today held a wide-ranging debate on how to best enable relief workers to reach vulnerable populations in the midst of natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies, when several factors can often combine to exacerbate already dangerous conditions.
The Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said there were "no redeeming features to the reality of a child living in a war zone" and stressed that the UN system must have safe and unobstructed access to these young people in order to save lives. She called for increased resources devoted to humanitarian assistance complemented by support for activities aimed at bridging the transition from relief to development.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, agreed that humanitarian efforts must be harmonized with development initiatives. For its part, UNHCR sought to prepare the ground for the smooth transition from relief to development, he added.
Ross Mountain, the UN's Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the effective delivery of humanitarian aid requires a clear plan, including an appropriate division of labour, and the rapid mobilization of resources. "On some occasions, the media attention given to a sudden disaster may help mobilize awareness and thus the resources needed to also meet the needs of the continuing emergency," he said. "Sometimes, however, natural disasters remain as unremarked as the forgotten complex emergencies within which they occur. It is vital that we as the international community ensure that this does not happen."
Jean-Jacques Graisse of the World Food Programme (WFP) said one of the ways his agency ensures that aid reaches the most vulnerable is to channel it through women, who care for their families, particularly children. "Our goal is to provide 80 per cent of food directly to women, ensure full participation of women in decision-making groups, and facilitate equal access of women to resources, employment, markets and trade," he said.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that following 22 years of war and four consecutive years of drought, nearly two thirds of all Afghans were receiving some form of humanitarian aid. The rapid return of refugees and higher than expected school enrolment - some 3 million children this year - heightened the need to help rural communities and rebuild educational facilities. The UN was striving to coordinate its efforts while ensuring an "Afghan-centric" approach, he said.