Deputy Secretary-General Stresses Need for Integrated Responses to Crises at Opening of 2016 Global Humanitarian Policy Forum

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the opening of the 2016 Global Humanitarian Policy Forum, in New York today:

It is a particular pleasure for me to be with you today to mark this twenty-fifth anniversary of General Assembly resolution 46/182, which laid the foundation for the humanitarian mandate of the United Nations.  I was also present for the tenth anniversary — on which occasion I was called the father of OCHA [Office for the Coordiantion of Humanitarian Affairs].  Now, probably, I am the grandfather.  I see several friends and colleagues who were also present on that historic day and night in late December 1991.  It was the culmination of months of intense negotiations.  It was quite dramatic until long after midnight.  I still remember the applause and tears of joy in the room when I gavelled the text at 1:30 in the morning.

Twenty-fifth anniversaries are known as silver anniversaries.  It’s true that some may have a bit more silver hair today than we did then.  But, I am sure that our commitment to the humanitarian imperative burns as bright as ever.  For this, I commend and thank you warmly.  Resolution 46/182 emerged from much thinking and discussions in the late 1980s.  I was then [Permanent Representative] of Sweden and one among a group of diplomats and United Nations staff who saw a potential vacuum, as well as potential opportunities in the area of humanitarian affairs at that time.

With the end of the cold war we predicted that we would see many convulsions inside countries.  We already saw signs of humanitarian crises in Africa and the Balkans.  And while we had a system in place for natural disasters, we had nothing substantial in place for the humanitarian consequences of man-made crises.  Our concern was that the existing United Nations efforts were uncoordinated and disparate.  We concluded that we needed to formulate an approach that would bring together all the humanitarian elements to respond swiftly and coherently, with the support of all Member States.

As Vice-President of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], I was chosen to prepare the ground for the resolution.  As Permanent Representative of Sweden, I did not know that I was writing my future job description.  In January 1992, I was named the first Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Looking back, I think that none of us, present at the creation, could have predicted how relevant this resolution would be in shaping international humanitarian response for a quarter of a century — and beyond, I hope.

The resolution was to be instrumental in bringing humanitarian response to the fore across all pillars of the United Nations.  It stressed the continuum between humanitarian relief and development, a principle that remains even more relevant today and on which we still need to do more.  It aimed to balance the need to support the world’s most vulnerable, while respecting sovereignty and States’ duty to care for their own people.  But, above all, it sent a fundamental message at the end of the cold war:  people, our fellow human beings, must be at the centre.  This is the essence of our work.  If we lose this perspective and this value base, we lose the soul of the United Nations, “We the peoples”, to whom we always ultimately are accountable.

During my time as the Emergency Relief Coordinator, major humanitarian crises struck in Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia and the Balkans.  Many lives were saved.  Many frustrations and disappointments were deeply felt.  And many lessons were learned over the years from 1992 onwards.  Today, the crises are ever more complex and more protracted.  They have generated huge humanitarian suffering, and unprecedented migrant and refugee flows.  And of course, there is an added element for displacement — natural disasters related to climate change.  Droughts, floods and rising sea levels are already forcing people to leave their homes in great numbers.

These trends have put enormous pressure on the humanitarian work of the United Nations — and ever-increasing costs.  When I led the first appeal in 1992, the figure was $2.7 billion.  For 2017, we are appealing for $22.2 billion.  Yet, the instruments of resolution 46/182 continue to play a vital role.  Let me briefly recall five concrete instruments.

First, since 1991, the humanitarian community within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee has met to coordinate response, provide leadership, develop policy and better use common resources.  It has also brought the United Nations, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and the Red Cross movement to work in greater unison.

Second, we now launch annual humanitarian response plans which outline the strategy for tackling the most pressing humanitarian needs.

Third, the resolution laid the foundation for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  With contributions from over 126 Member States and observers since 2006, the CERF has disbursed over $4.5 billion to 98 crises that would otherwise have been underfunded, or not funded in time.  Just think of the number of lives saved by the CERF.  It is a tribute to its valuable role that the General Assembly, through its 2016 humanitarian resolution, welcomed the CERF’s expansion to $1 billion by 2018.

Fourth, OCHA plays a crucial role at all levels to coordinate response, guide policy and practice, and advocate and mobilize support on behalf of those in need.

Fifth, the resolution created the position of the Emergency Relief Coordinator at the global level, and the humanitarian coordinator at the country level.  They are to provide crucial leadership when it comes to negotiating humanitarian access and providing linkages with development, human rights and peace and security endeavours in a truly “horizontal” way. 

Resolution 46/182 has helped to identify gaps and prevent duplication.  It has allowed us to better mobilize resources and disburse them efficiently.  But, we continue to face profound challenges.  As I mentioned, the humanitarian requirements for 2017 are huge.  A record 130 million people are dependent on life-saving humanitarian assistance.  More than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced by conflict and violence, two thirds of them in their own countries.  In conflict zones around the world, international humanitarian law is shamelessly disregarded.  Civilian populations and humanitarian workers are increasingly at risk.

Today, OCHA launches the World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2016.  This study illustrates in an interesting way what a country would look like if it were made up solely of the most vulnerable people left behind.  In such a country, life expectancy is 24 years shorter than the global average.  Only 30 per cent of children finish their primary education.  Compared to the rest of the world, 10 times more children under age 5 would die.

As more and more people face these injustices and inequalities, we must find better, more lasting solutions.  We must search for solutions which recognize the need to deal with root causes and the need for integrated responses.  Treating the immediate needs in isolation cannot permanently lift people trapped in cycles of perpetual crisis.  We will never succeed by dealing with the symptoms alone.  Our work will be unending and frustrating, leading to resignation and hopelessness.  Prevention through dealing with the reasons and causes of humanitarian crises is absolutely fundamental.

How the international community could more substantially tackle these challenges was the key subject of the discussions at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, in May this year.  I wish here to particularly commend Stephen O’Brien and his excellent team.  In particular, at the Summit, nine United Nations entities and the World Bank agreed to a Commitment to Action, taking up a new way of working to transcend humanitarian-development divides.  The Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity, launched in Istanbul, is one crucial tool to advance our efforts.  Another one is, of course, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its pledge to “leave no one behind”.  The Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sustaining Peace Resolutions of this year and, of course, resolution 46/182 are other such tools.

So, in closing, let these essential tools and principles lead us for the next 25 years and beyond, both as visions and as guide-posts in our daily work to build a better future.

Once again, I thank you for your work for a more hopeful, humane world — where all people can live in dignity and peace.  Let these landmark decisions of the United Nations, together with our founding Charter and the unwavering commitment to our common humanity, guide us all every day on the road ahead in this troubled, and still wonderful, world.

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