Worldwide disaster response capabilities criticized in new UN report

2 September 2005

Worldwide preparedness for major disasters and the ability of the international community to respond quickly, provide fresh water, sanitation, food, shelter, and security are inadequate, says a review commissioned by top United Nations emergency relief official, Jan Egeland.

Commissioned even before the effects of the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States, the report identifies major weaknesses in the international relief system including among non-governmental agencies (NGOs), donor organizations and UN agencies.

Despite possessing the right sense of urgency, most organizations cannot ramp up their human resources and sectoral capacities quickly enough to respond to a humanitarian emergency adequately, says the report. Gaps were identified in “water and sanitation, shelter, camp management and in food aid, nutrition and livelihoods.” In addition these problems were magnified when the crisis rapidly outstripped relief capacity.

Citing gender-violence in Darfur, the report says that “protection requires special and urgent attention,” a reference to the need for armed protection of victims of a disaster or humanitarian crisis, but also to the need to “restore dignified conditions” of human life.

The report also recommends that in a humanitarian crisis, one lead organization take control, a concept that should be adopted “system-wide.” More donor organizations should also be brought into the process, and all organizations involved in humanitarian relief should be included in a “global mapping” of response capacities. Finally the report recommends that humanitarian assistance efforts should be more “needs-based,” focusing more on whether the beneficiaries have been taken care of rather than the bureaucratic “benchmarks” which have been imposed on the agency.

The study was conducted at the behest of Mr. Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and was undertaken by four independent consultants between February and June 2005.


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