Global perspective Human stories

UN humanitarian officials call on international community to learn from tsunami

UN humanitarian officials call on international community to learn from tsunami

Former US President Clinton (L) and OCHA's Jan Egeland
Former United States President Bill Clinton, who is the United Nations Special Envoy on Tsunami Recovery, and UN-allied Business Roundtable's chief Hank McKinnell today joined UN emergency coordinator Jan Egeland in calling on the international community to build on what has been learned from the Indian Ocean disaster.

At a one-day disaster relief conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Clinton said, "The really hard stuff starts now," adding that it was essential to "finish this job, do it right and use it as a model for the future."

The three spoke to journalists during the conference hosted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Mr. Egeland heads, and the Business Roundtable, an association of major US corporations now headed by Mr. McKinnell, the chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.

About $2 billion had been donated by private sources, about a quarter of all the funding received, Mr. Clinton said. Some $1 billion had come in from the US, including hundreds of millions of dollars from individuals, he noted, adding that the UN had to be able to track the donations and tell where the money went.

Another issue was to prepare for future disasters, he said, and, in that regard, he was encouraged by the increasing cooperation in the Indian Ocean region on a tsunami early-warning system and he hoped to produce a handbook of best practices for responding to natural disasters.

Mr. Clinton said he was trying to champion such basic principles as "Build back better," improving on the housing, schools and health-care systems in devastated villages and seeking alternative means of making a living.

Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the private sector could mobilize attention and resources to meet the world's enormous humanitarian needs. With its penchant for cost effectiveness and efficiency, it could help the aid organizations to provide a new generation of partnerships to solve old problems, he said.

The UN had to be proactive and create an infrastructure for partnerships with the private sector by taking such steps as identifying points of contact in each company and UN agency, while the humanitarian organizations should maintain standby arrangements, he said.

One of the most cost-effective investments was aid, "providing a priceless return on investment," that of saving a human life, Mr. Egeland added.

Noting the long relationships Business Roundtable companies had had with the UN, Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Mr. McKinnell asked whether there was now the will, resolve and energy to sustain the progress in partnering for speed that the tsunami had brought and to build on it.

If there was, it was "because this baptism of fire in the beginning of the year had helped us move to a new level of trust," he said.

Pfizer's goal in natural disasters was to turn on the tap of cash and medicine as quickly as possible, Mr. McKinnell said. For other Business Roundtable companies, tracking a package around the globe, building subways, skyscrapers and bridges and complementing the work of the relief agencies could provide more "people power" in times of need.

"Working together, as partners, we can bring more help and more hope to those thrust suddenly into a vortex of misery. Along the way, we can help fulfil the vision of the United Nations – to put aside our differences, build on a common foundation and serve every member of our human family," he said.