Humanitarian needs at ‘all-time high,’ top UN relief official tells Economic and Social Council

17 June 2015

Humanitarian needs are at an all-time high, the top United Nations relief official declared today, stressing that while the Organization needs no less than $18.8 billion to meet the needs of nearly 80 million people, it has received only 26 per cent of that amount.

“Each statistic represents a personal tragedy for someone: separation from home and community; missing out on an education; failure to plant the seeds for next year’s harvest; a life of instability and uncertainty,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien told the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which kicked off its annual three-day Humanitarian Affairs Segment in Geneva today.

“In Syria, 12.2 million people need humanitarian assistance; in South Sudan, 4.6 million face severe food insecurity. In Ukraine, 1.3 million have been forced to flee the violence,” he stressed, also bringing attention on the 20 million people at risk of hunger in the Sahel, and the 850,000 refugees and returnees who are currently hosted by Chad and Niger.

During his recent visit to Iraq, Mr. O’Brien, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, met families with the “most heart-breaking stories of fear, flight, loss and grief,” while in Yemen, some twenty million people – an “unimaginable number,” “80 per cent of the population” – are now in need of humanitarian aid.

As a whole, more than 110 million people around the world depend on humanitarian organisations, for life-saving assistance and protection.

“Our donors have not faltered in their generosity,” the Under-Secretary-General acknowledged. Funding to inter-agency appeals reached a record $10.7 billion in 2014, he noted, and contributions to country-based pooled funds and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) received more than a billion dollars.

“But growing needs far outpace the resource available to meet them, leaving an ever widening gap,” he warned, urging to “reform and diversify the funding model,” and make it more predictable.

He went on to note that protracted crises have become the new normal and are also contributing to the problem. The average duration of a humanitarian appeal is now more than seven years.

“We have been providing lifesaving support to millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan for more than a decade,” Mr. O’Brien explained.

Presenting to Council members the Secretary-General’s report on ‘Strengthening the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations,’ Mr. O’Brien explained that the Organization must reverse the trend that has transformed, over the years, humanitarians in “default providers of essential services,” disempowering affected people and perpetuating dependency.

To implement that recommendation, the UN must work with the many new organizations and groups that are involved in humanitarian action, the Under-Secretary-General continued.

“These range from NGOs and civil society to diaspora communities and the private sector. Connecting and leveraging the comparative advantages of these different actors will enable us to bring additional resources, knowledge and skills to our work.”

The World Humanitarian Summit, to be held next year in Istanbul, Turkey, will be a good platform for Heads of State and Government, and leaders from civil society, the private sector, crisis-affected communities and multilateral organizations to announce their “commitments to change.”

Also emphasizing the crisis in the protection of civilians, he reminded governments and parties to conflict that they bear the primary responsibility to protect and provide for the needs of people under their control.

“However, across conflicts, we see Government forces and non-State actors directly attacking civilians, bombing hospitals and schools, and using explosive weapons in populated areas, despite knowing that over 90 per cent of the casualties will be civilians. We see parties to conflict use rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of war.”

Apart the “moral outrage,” such a situation undermines “the credibility and authority of the United Nations, its entire membership and the international system,” he concluded.

In his remarks, Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly stressed that this September, world leaders are expected to adopt in New York, an ambitious and transformative post-2015 development agenda. The overarching objective of the new development framework will be the eradication of poverty, taking into account the three dimensions of sustainable development; economic, social and environmental.

“The new development agenda will have a significant impact on development for the next fifteen years and beyond” he said, adding that it will place a renewed emphasis on reducing economic fragility and addressing social disparities within and between countries, while also taking concrete steps to protect the environment.

Collective action on the part of Member States and the United Nations system will be of vital importance. “In this regard, ECOSOC will have a central role to play in advancing an integrated approach to a unified and universal agenda.”

“In a world where protracted crises have become the norm, and where disasters can wipe out years of development in a blink of an eye, the well-being of the most vulnerable and marginalized must be addressed in our future development objectives,” continued Mr. Kutesa, underscoring that the humanitarian community must be actively involved in shaping and implementing the post-2015 development framework.

“Together, we can ensure the future development agenda embraces the needs of all people around the world; improving their daily lives, while preserving the planet for future generations.”

 

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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Millions in Iraq need greater humanitarian support, warns top UN relief official

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