UN updates guidelines for international military aid in disaster relief operations

27 November 2006

The United Nations today launched updated guidelines for improving the effectiveness of foreign military and civil defence assets in international disaster relief operations, such as those used in response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago.

The United Nations today launched updated guidelines for improving the effectiveness of foreign military and civil defence assets in international disaster relief operations, such as those used in response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago.

“In order to protect the principles of humanity, neutrality, and impartiality and at the same time be prepared to use these valuable resources in extraordinary circumstances, we need to maintain a continuous professional dialogue with military and civil defence organizations throughout the world,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told a high-level meeting in Oslo, Norway.

The meeting was convened by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to “re-launch” the so-called Oslo Guidelines, first endorsed in Oslo in 1994.

The unprecedented deployment in 2005 of military forces and assets in support of humanitarian responses to natural disaster confirms the need to update the guidelines, OCHA said. Many of the updates reflect current terminology and organizational changes.

The international humanitarian community and UN agencies should only call on these resources when there are no other viable alternatives and with due regard for the sovereignty and leading role of local authorities in the affected State, the guidelines stress.

More than 100 participants from both civilian and military sectors of Member States and organizations attended the forum to discuss civil-military coordination and cooperation.

Such coordination has grown tremendously since the 1994. Recent examples of use of international Military and Civil Defence Assets include the earthquake in Iran in December 2003, the floods in Bangladesh in July 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, the quake in Pakistan in 2005, and floods in Algeria this February.

In the case of the tsunami, 35 countries provided some type of military or civil defence aid, including 75 helicopters, 41 major ships, 43 airplanes and nearly 30,000 troops. This posed significant operational coordination challenges for all – for the affected host nations, for assisting countries and for the UN and other relief organizations.

Member States, even those who do not give a primary role to their military forces in domestic response, are now using their military capacity for relief operations on a global basis. These resources range from traditional medical and engineering support to often-needed aviation capabilities used to speed assistance to the stricken population.

“Foreign military and civil defence assets should be requested only where there is no comparable civilian alternative and only the use of military or civil defence assets can meet a critical humanitarian need,” the guidelines state. “The military or civil defence asset must therefore be unique in capability and availability.”

 

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