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General Assembly reviews work of Economic and Social Council, begins debate on strengthening United Nations humanitarian assistance

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GA/10176
Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Plenary
37th Meeting (AM)

The progress made over the last year to revitalize the activities of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), particularly with regard to implementing the outcomes of major international conferences, was highlighted this morning, as the General Assembly considered the report of that body.

Introducing the Council’s report, ECOSOC President Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala) described two new avenues of intense cooperation that had opened up in the past year. They had resulted from the joint role assigned to the Assembly and the Council regarding follow-up of the Financing for Development Conference, as well as from an Assembly resolution adopted last June confirming the pivotal role of the Council in promoting an integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences.

Reviewing the Council’s 2003 substantive session, he noted the Council had reached an agreement on an action-oriented resolution containing a new and ambitious agenda on financing for the humanitarian community - donors and recipients alike -- which was now being followed up by the humanitarian agencies. Other significant advances included the creation of Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on African post-conflict countries, one on Guinea-Bissau and the other on Burundi.

Speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, the representative of Morocco said that there should be innovative mechanisms to ensure that the agreements set at the Financing Conference were achieved, which included the need for more and better dialogue with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was time to move beyond intellectual discussions, on to concrete proposals and then on to action. In that context, he hoped the Assembly’s upcoming High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development would yield real results.

Also this morning, the Assembly began its consideration of the strengthening of United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. Speakers addressed a number of issues, including the protection of United Nations and humanitarian personnel, the lingering and complex effects of the Chernobyl disaster, and assistance to the Palestinian people. Delegations emphasized the need to build strong capacities at regional and national levels to strengthen cooperation between the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.

In addition, it was stated that contributions made to humanitarian assistance should not impact negatively on resources allocated to international cooperation for development. The European Union, noted the representative of Italy, provided about half of all global humanitarian assistance and faced, along with the wider international community, the need to maximize resources, as well as ensure their equitable allocation. The debate launched on "good donorship" and procedural harmonization would contribute significantly to meeting those challenges.

Reaffirming the importance of "good donorship" was the representative of Norway, who said recent studies had shown much could be done to enhance the efficacy of humanitarian assistance by better coordination between donors. Last June, at the Conference on Good Humanitarian Donorship, principles and actions had been adopted to reverse today’s reality, in which the totality of donors’ efforts was less than the sum of individual parts. Furthermore, efforts must be intensified on all levels of humanitarian action, from normative work to practical security measures and punitive action against perpetrators.

The representatives of Morocco (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Egypt, China, Switzerland, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Australia and India also spoke on that item, as did the Observer for Palestine.

Statements were also made on the report of ECOSOC by the representatives of Italy (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Pakistan and Croatia.

At the outset of today’s meeting, the Assembly authorized the Working Group on the Future Operation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) to meet in New York during the Assembly’s fifty-eighth session.

The Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. today to reconvene its tenth emergency special session. Consideration of strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance will continue at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 October.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to consider the report of the Economic and Social Council, as well as strengthening United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, including special economic assistance. It was also expected to consider a letter from the Committee on Conference.

In a letter dated 13 October from the Chairman of the Committee on Conferences addressed to the President of the General Assembly (document A/58/356/Add.1), the Assembly is requested to authorize the Working Group on the Future Operation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) to meet in New York during the Assembly’s fifty-eighth session.

The report of the Economic and Social Council (document A/58/3, Part 1) lists, in three chapters, the Council’s work during its organizational and resumed organizational, as well as substantive, sessions for 2003. Chapter I outlines matters calling for action by or brought to the attention of the Assembly, on a host of items, including United Nations operational activities for international development cooperation, implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits, and preparations for an international meeting to review the programme of action for the sustainable development of small island developing States.

Chapter II of the report recounts the Council’s high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO), held on 14 April. Chapter III details the high-level segment of the Council’s substantive session. The theme for the segment, held from 30 June to 2 July, was "Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development".

The Secretary-General’s report on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/58/344) states that United Nations personnel continue to face significant threats to their safety in all regions in which they operate, the most dangerous of which is physical violence. In total, 196 United Nations civilian staff members have been killed since 1992, five of which occurred during the reporting period. The majority of victims are Palestinians working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

More than 258 incidents of assault on United Nations and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel were also reported during the period, the report continues, including 69 in Afghanistan, 30 in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and 53 reported by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The loss of life resulting from the August 2003 attack in Baghdad fell outside the reporting period.

According to the report, the fact that fatalities have decreased significantly over the past year provides a sense of optimism that efforts to strengthen the security management system are on the right track, states the report. Continued emphasis on the implementation of minimum operating security standards, and expansion of security and stress management training, will serve to further reduce risks. While the United Nations will continue to enhance the security arrangement system, host governments have the primary responsibility for the security of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel.

The report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/58/89) examines some of the key humanitarian developments and challenges of the past year. Some of the issues addressed relate to the protection of civilians, internally displaced persons, contingency planning, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS in the context of emergencies. It also focuses on the major challenges faced in the transition from relief to development and humanitarian financing.

Developments in the humanitarian environment have been mixed, according to the report. There are positive indications that long-standing conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Sudan might be moving towards resolution. However, the re-emergence of conflict in Liberia and an outbreak of civil war in Côte d’Ivoire are further complicating the situation in West Africa. In other parts of the world, such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and the occupied Palestinian territory, protracted conflicts continue to deepen the humanitarian suffering of civilians. In Iraq, promoting principled interaction with the occupying Power presents a key challenge to humanitarian coordination.

The General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council may wish to, among other things, urge Member States and non-State actors to bring to an end the climate of impunity by ensuring that those responsible for attacks against humanitarian workers are promptly brought to justice. They may also wish to encourage donors to allocate funding in proportion to needs and to ensure more equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance to meet global humanitarian needs in their entirety.

Another report, on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/58/434) highlights key activities undertaken in response to natural disasters, and reflects initiatives to strengthen disaster-management efforts at the national and regional levels. It also provides information on funding trends for natural disaster response. It is critical, it states, that the international community collaborate with vulnerable countries and regions to ensure optimum use of available disaster-management tools and initiatives.

Member States in disaster-prone regions are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group guidelines for coordinated, rapid response at the onset of a disaster. The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system continues to be a valuable tool by which disaster management expertise is made available by Member States to respond to the sudden onset of emergencies. There is a need to expand the UNDAC membership to Africa, and donors are invited to support efforts to expand the availability of recovery teams.

Further, a more precise understanding of the impact of funding on natural disaster response is necessary. Although figures exist to show the level of contributions to natural disaster response, it is not clear if adequate support is being provided to address capacity-building and post-disaster recovery needs. And, while several entities are available to compile statistics relating to natural disasters, information can be inconsistent. Member States are called to explore this matter, and work with the humanitarian community to ensure that information is streamlined.

The Secretary-General’s report on assistance for humanitarian relief and the economic and social rehabilitation of Somalia (document A/58/133) points out that the highest priorities for the remainder of 2003 include containing the spread of HIV/AIDS, increasing the enrolment of children in school, strengthening protection frameworks, providing basic services for vulnerable communities and strengthening field coordination to maximise the impact of scarce resources.

Despite significant progress, states the report, the volatile security situation and lack of funding continue to hamper humanitarian recovery and development programmes in Somalia, leading to increased vulnerability within Somali communities. Member States are urged to support humanitarian recovery and development activities through the consolidated appeals process and other mechanisms. The United Nations, with the support of the international community, will continue to work in support of national reconciliation and social and economic development in Somalia, employing an incremental approach of increased engagement.

The Secretary-General’s report on emergency humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia (document A/58/224) notes that, despite high levels of emergency assistance, the number of people defined as chronically food insecure in Ethiopia is growing every year, as a result of inadequate development assistance over the last decade. Consequently, a new approach is required to separate chronic and acute food insecurity, and immediate and substantial action is needed to prevent the further deterioration and unavoidable deaths of people who are already in critical nutritional condition. Special emphasis should be placed on improving nutritional capacity to meet emerging needs, emergency water activities and vaccination campaigns.

Substantial relief supplies will also continue to be necessary to ensure the rehabilitation of the affected areas and population segments, with the aim of eventually focusing attention on medium- and long-term goals related to recovery and greater food security. The clearest indicator of the severity of the present crisis is the alarming rate of global acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition. Immediate and substantial action is needed to prevent the further deterioration and deaths of many people who are already in critical condition. Further, a robust rehabilitation strategy for pastoral and agricultural areas and a greater focus on resettlement and policy issues affecting development will be critical in alleviating the impact of future droughts.

Another report of the Secretary-General (document A/58/225) describes humanitarian developments in the Sudan during the period from 15 July 2001 to 22 May 2003. After years of impasse on issues of security and humanitarian access, there was an overall improvement in the programming and delivery of humanitarian assistance during the reporting period. Peace talks began on 17 June 2002 between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), resulting in agreements to cease hostilities and to uphold the principle of unimpeded humanitarian access. That allowed United Nations bodies and NGOs to reach an additional 1 million people in need.

The humanitarian imperative to save lives and reduce human suffering cannot await the completion of the peace process, states the report. Funding shortfalls in food security, health care, water and sanitation and other sectors are hindering attempts to stabilize the situation and to lay minimal foundations for recovery. An urgent infusion of funds is crucial to ensure core competencies are retained and that agencies maintain their readiness, including sufficient planning and implementation capacity, as well as adequate material stocks and the means to deploy them. Only with such commitment will the possibility exist to set recovery in motion and to consolidate peace, which, once broken, would be enormously difficult and costly to mend.

The report of the Secretary-General on special assistance for the economic recovery and reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document A/58/273) states that the security and humanitarian situation remains of concern, as the persistence of local conflicts has exacerbated the problem of internally displaced persons, who now number more than 2.5 million. Moreover, the social situation remains precarious, with the great majority of the population living below the poverty line. Faced with various challenges, agencies of the United Nations system have provided technical, material and financial assistance in three area: support for the transition process; support for democratic governance and poverty reduction; and emergency humanitarian assistance.

Recognizing the progress made, as well as the fragility of the results achieved, urgent, consistent international assistance for building peace and security and combating poverty is advocated. A special transition assistance programme, an emergency public infrastructure rehabilitation programme expanded to the country’s eastern and northern provinces and an emergency humanitarian, social and cultural programme should be the three pillars of the international community’s strategic intervention framework.

The Secretary-General’s report on international assistance for humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and development for Timor-Leste (document A/58/280) covers the period from July 2002 to July 2003, subsequent to the establishment by the Security Council of the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) on 17 May 2002. The UNMISET has successfully assisted the Government in maintaining stability, law and order after the internal security threats posed in December 2002 and January this year. The Mission and United Nations agencies, funds and programmes have provided technical assistance in enhancing the capacity of the national police service and public administration that fully respect the principles of democratic governance and human rights.

They continue to take the measures necessary to ensure that national security and governance structures are in place and functioning satisfactorily when UNMISET completes its mandate. It is not certain whether the Government will be able to achieve those goals completely before the Mission departs in May 2004. Until the new nation can become self-sufficient, it is necessary for development partners to continue to assist the government in strengthening the capacity of those national institutions entrusted with the task of executing justice, law and order, as well as those responsible for the delivery of public services providing for the basic welfare of the Timorese people.

The Secretary-General’s report on assistant for the reconstruction and development of Djibouti (document A/58/285) concludes that the country’s development challenges are primarily related to the economic and financial crisis, which resulted from the civil strife and changes in the international and subregional context. Additionally, recurring emergency situations, such as drought, floods and epidemics, combined with large-scale destruction of livestock, water points, health and educational facilities as a result of internal unrest in the country, led to the large-scale movement of displaced populations and considerably increased Djibouti’s need for further emergency and humanitarian aid.

The report stresses the need to find ways to make better use of rainwater and to explore countrywide water resources. It calls for the strengthening of the rehabilitation process already initiated, as the country still needs to rebuild its rural infrastructure so as to enable people to return to their original homelands. Also, building national management capacity in support of sustainable human development remains a critical priority, and assistance is needed in governance, administrative reform and economic development.

The Secretary-General’s report on international assistance to and cooperation with the Alliance for Sustainable Development of Central America (document A/58/286) states that, to cover their investment priorities, the Central American countries had found themselves forced to increase their levels of debt. Additionally, because of natural calamities and the crisis in the coffee sector that affected the region in recent years, domestic resources for investment had declined significantly. All of that had taken place in a competitive international context, where the region’s economies, both individually and collectively, had been going through a process of economic restructuring aimed at their appropriate integration into the world economy, said the report.

The report recommends that the international community give concessional support for the reintegration of Central America into the world economy, and for its political and economic integration. The region required continuity in bilateral and multilateral cooperation in two priority areas: strengthening of democracy and its institutions and support to the dialogue and consultation process; and overcoming poverty throughout the region. It also recommends particularly firm support and monitoring of the fulfillment of the Peace Agreement in Guatemala, and the full consolidation of the peace process in Central America. Other priority areas that called for international cooperation and assistance in the region as a whole included food security, health care and the promotion of sustainable development and the environment.

The Secretary-General’s report on economic assistance to Eastern European States affected by the developments in the Balkans (document A/58/358) includes communications received from States on action taken to alleviate the special economic problems of the Eastern European States. Seven countries in South-Eastern Europe - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro - are identified as the most seriously affected economies in the region. Hungary, Slovakia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine also reported a negative impact from developments during the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the break-up of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The report concludes that with broad-based international support, the reconstruction and recovery process in South-Eastern Europe continued to advance. Capacity- and institution-building, rather than emergency relief initiatives, have become the centrepiece of both bilateral and multilateral assistance. The shift reflected the changing needs as the affected countries moved towards economic, social and political stabilization. Relevant United Nations agencies, including international financial institutions, have also continued their assistance, focusing on rural development, environmental protection and curbing trafficking in human beings, among other things.

The Secretary-General’s report on optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/58/332) details actions to strengthen and coordinate the global response to the 1986 tragedy. Despite the passage of 17 years, the situation remains difficult in and around Chernobyl and the contaminated areas of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine. The scientific data, as well as anecdotal information, indicate that this problem continues to affect a vast number of people, including children, in the most affected States.

The report notes that for the new momentum created by recent initiatives of the international community to be sustained, substantial resources are needed. Some important projects have been discontinued and assistance suspended due to severe financial constraints. The humanitarian and development activities indicated in the report were the minimum required to mitigate the consequences of the disaster. Finding solutions would be a test of the international community’s solidarity with those who continued to live with the effects of the worst disaster of its kind the world has ever known.

The Assembly also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on participation of volunteers, "White Helmets", in the activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (document A/58/320), which recommends to the United Nations system the value of utilizing pre-identified, standby and trained teams of volunteers in systemwide activities. The report welcomes the involvement of additional Member States in the White Helmets initiative so that specially trained volunteers can enhance emergency response and development efforts. It is hoped that additional financial contributions to the special financing window of United Nations Volunteers can be mobilized to build further upon current successes.

Also before the Assembly is the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people (documents A/58/88 and Corr.1), which states that, in the past year, the humanitarian and socio-economic crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory reached unprecedented levels. Meeting the immediate challenges requires full respect by the parties for their obligations under international humanitarian law. They must make every effort to facilitate the work of United Nations agencies and their partners in the donor and aid communities.

The Secretary-General calls especially on Israel to take immediate steps to lift restrictions, and to revive the economy, restore Palestinian livelihoods and facilitate the work of the assistance community, including through improving the freedom of movement of aid workers and beneficiaries. He also calls on the international community to provide the resources necessary for assistance programmes, drawing particular attention to UNRWA’s latest appeal.

While international assistance can alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, only a comprehensive political settlement, leading to the end of the occupation, can provide a real solution to the humanitarian and economic crisis. Such a solution is offered in the Quartet’s "Road Map". The United Nations system will continue to work within the Quartet, and with the donor community and the parties, to achieve this solution and to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

Statements on ECOSOC Report

GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala), President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), introduced the 2003 report of that body. He said that two new avenues of intense cooperation had opened up in the past year, resulting from the joint role the Monterrey Consensus assigned to the General Assembly and the Council in follow-up activities of the Financing for Development Conference, and from General Assembly resolution 57/270B, adopted last June, which confirmed the pivotal role of the Council in promoting an integrated and coordinated implementation and follow-up to major United Nations conferences.

In that context, he said the Council’s high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, held on 14 April, had featured significant innovations both in its preparations and its format to enable it to fulfil its specific new role in the follow-up to the Monterrey Conference. Preparations had involved extensive consultations within the Council and with the management of the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, as well as with the Executive Directors of the World Bank. Informal hearings with members of civil society and the business sector had also been held in March. At the meeting itself, a very high level of intergovernmental representation of the main multilateral stakeholders had been attained, and there had been a productive interactive dialogue on the progress achieved and obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Monterrey commitments. The Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development would be able to build on that discussion.

As for its substantive session, he said the Council had responded well to its crucial role in policy development during its high-level segment, which focused on "Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development". Having called for a new integrated approach to rural development, the Council adopted a Ministerial Declaration that highlighted the overriding impact of international cooperation and market access on rural development. The Ministerial Declaration’s focus on a multisectoral approach and partnerships was mirrored by the attendance of heads of United Nations agencies, ministers and policy makers from various sectors, NGOs and business sector representatives in the debates, round tables and side events of the substantive session.

The Council had also exercised its role for development cooperation with renewed dynamism, he noted. During its operational activities segment, the Council had hosted a rich mix of policy makers, bilateral cooperation agencies, representatives of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)/Development Assistance Committee, the United Nations and its funds, programmes and country teams and civil society. Panels had provided the opportunity for frank discussion of difficult issues such as lessons learned from the United Nations system’s activities evaluations and the funding situation of its development organizations.

Within the context of its humanitarian segment, the Council had heard panels on the transition from relief to development, humanitarian financing and HIV/AIDS and emergencies, he added. Member States had reached agreement on an action-oriented resolution containing a new and ambitious agenda on financing for the humanitarian community - donors and recipients alike -- which was now being followed up by the humanitarian agencies. During its coordination segment, it had decided to undertake informal consultations, starting early next year, to develop a multi-year programme for that segment.

Furthermore, he continued, with the creation of the Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on African post-conflict countries, the Council had added a new dimension to its work over the past year. Two groups had been created, one on Guinea-Bissau in 2002 and the other on Burundi in 2003. That initiative had proved useful in gathering the major development partners around the needs of those countries. The Groups promoted a comprehensive approach to problems aimed at facilitating the transition and recovery process and avoiding a relapse into conflict.

Finally, during its general segment, the Council held a meeting with the chairpersons of all its functional commissions, he concluded, with a view to improving coordination among them. Several other important decisions had also been taken, especially regarding preparations for the Assembly’s high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, held in September; bringing a new specialized agency - the World Tourism Organization -- into the United Nations family; and a review of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force. The Council had also sent a strong message that progress on the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries must be accelerated. Next year’s high-level segment will be devoted to resource mobilization and an enabling environment for poverty reduction for the implementation of that Programme of Action. That discussion would continue during the coordination segment, which would also review the implementation of the Council’s agreed conclusions of 1997 on mainstreaming a gender perspective into all United Nations policies and programmes.

MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said ECOSOC had been mandated to achieve and maintain consistency and coherence of matters related to economic and social development throughout the United Nations system. Efforts to revitalize the Organization must encompass a reform of ECOSOC so that it could in turn revitalize all its myriad subsidiary bodies. Much of its work dealt with poverty eradication, but clearly -- with the complexities of such issues in a time of rampant globalization - there were not enough resources available to support the Council’s work. He hoped that by next year a debate would be held on financing the Council’s substantive bodies, with an overarching view towards reinvigorating the financing for development process in general.

On ECOSOC’s role in integrated follow-up of the major conferences, he hoped that by 2005 there would be a major discussion of issues such as poverty reduction and education in poor countries. Furthermore, he hoped that there would be innovative mechanisms to ensure that the agreements set at Monterrey were achieved. Here, he stressed the need for more and better dialogue with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But it was time to move beyond intellectual discussions and on to concrete proposals and then on to action. He hoped the Assembly’s upcoming High-level Dialogue would yield real results in that regard.

Turning to the situation of the least developed countries, he appealed to all donors and multilateral organizations to redouble their efforts to meet the commitments made at Brussels, on behalf of the "poorest of the poor". He stressed that the Brussels process had not made much progress primarily because of a lack of political will. Also, a major hurdle for small countries, and indeed for rural development in general, remained access to the markets of developed countries. The cotton scandal and the collapse of the WTO’s recent Cancun round had only highlighted the need for donors and financial institutions to redouble their efforts to boost agricultural production in the poor countries. He reiterated the Group’s hope that recent calls for United Nations reform would also include revitalization of the Council.

MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, wholly supported calls to strengthen ECOSOC’s role, and recognized that much remained to be done to ensure that the body was given its rightful position within the United Nations system. Turning to the main areas where ECOSOC’s role could be revitalized, he said there was a broad consensus on the body’s pivotal role in systemwide coordination, and in promoting integrated follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Supporting such a role would allow the body to assume the responsibilities invested in it by those respective meetings, he continued, particularly the Monterrey Consensus, the Millennium Declaration and the outcome of the Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development. To that end, he welcomed the Council’s recent decision to finalize a list of common themes and a multi-year programme of work before its substantive 2004 session. He also agreed with the Secretary-General on other areas that deserved attention, including strengthening ECOSOC’s relationship with the regional commissions and the need to build a closer relationship with specialized agencies and inter-agency bodies to ensure consistency in the implementation of the Millennium Goals.

He went on to say that the spirit of cooperation between ECOSOC and the Bretton Woods institutions, evinced during the run-up to Monterrey, must be maintained. That period showed the tremendous potential of what could be accomplished when agencies worked together towards a common goal. Also, the enhancement of ECOSOC’s role depended largely on its ability to address issues of major relevance to governments and public opinion. The Council could, for instance, devote more of its work to country specific situations or crises. More action was also needed to strengthen coordination of humanitarian assistance, as well as the Council’s post-conflict initiatives, where ECOSOC’s Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on Guinea-Bissau and Burundi had shown that there were opportunities to fill the gap between relief efforts and long-term reconstruction and development assistance.

AKRAM ZAKI (Pakistan), said that the Assembly’s discussion of the report of ECOSOC provided an opportunity to review the extent to which the Council had achieved the goals it had set for itself. As the central forum for system-wide coordination of United Nations activities in the economic and social fields, it was important that the Council contributed towards creating conditions that stimulated economic growth and development in the underdeveloped as well as the developed world. For that purpose, a number of steps needed to be taken to ensure that political commitment existed for achieving the agreed official development assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent and that ambitious efforts were made for debt write-off and debt restructuring, not only for the HIPC countries but also for the low-income countries with a high growth and demand potential. Also, actions were required for capacity-building and trade growth in the developing countries, as well as to create innovative ways of financing development on concessional terms.

He said the collapse of the Cancun talks was a wake-up call for all who believed that the developing countries would accept persistent trade inequity just by resorting to slogans and symbolism. What the world needed was action that would turn talk about free markets, trade liberalization and the outcome of the Doha development round into reality. He believed the failure at Cancun was the result of what happened in Doha, where major trading countries refused to offer the promised concessions on development-related issues. The Declaration presented at Cancun did not address the major concerns of the developing countries.

Continuing, he pointed out that the creation of a just and equitable international trading and finance system was the most important path to reviving global economic growth and development and the to realization of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly of halving poverty by 2015. To that end, he urged ECOSOC to play its role in creating conditions for correcting imbalances in the world of trade and finance.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) welcomed the report of the Economic and Social Council, but felt that a substantive report, rather than a technical one, would be more conducive for the Assembly’s deliberations within the framework of the overall reform of the Organization. A more efficient relationship between the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, which could provide the basis for broader-based and more inclusive international decision-making, was welcomed.

On the subject of strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, he said that the United Nations should increase its efforts to ensure a smooth transition from the provision of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to development activities in post-conflict environments in Central and South-eastern Europe. Within the goal of streamlining efforts to stabilize the region, the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe had been established. Although it did not attract as much aid and assistance as had been hoped, the Pact had produced tangible results in the three fields of security, economic recovery and strengthening of democracy, at which it was aimed. However, the United Nations had not exercised its role to the fullest possible extent. That lesson could well be used in other parts of the world plagued by problems of post-conflict stability, economic recovery and confidence-building.

Humanitarian and reconstruction aid, he added, could not match the strategic importance of foreign direct investment (FDI), whose essential prerequisite was a stable and democratic environment with stimulating macroeconomic measures. As countries in dire need of FDI often lacked those measures, development assistance should closely follow humanitarian assistance and post-conflict rebuilding. It was essential for the United Nations to show it could provide practical orientations on issues of the utmost concern to people everywhere. A more substantive and interactive relationship between the Assembly and ECOSOC should be developed.

Strengthening United Nations Assistance

Mr. BENNOUNA (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the issue of natural disasters was of crucial importance to developing countries. Since such disasters had long-lasting consequences on affected populations, as well as on environmental protection and social and economic development, the international community must consider how it could be more efficient in addressing them. The guidelines contained in the annex to resolution 46/182 should remain the basis of all responses to humanitarian emergency requests for assistance. Thus, the primary responsibility for the organization and delivery of assistance should fall on concerned States. However, it was essential to build strong capacities at regional and national levels to strengthen cooperation between the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.

Given the increasing number of natural disasters in recent years, he said, there must be action for prevention and the reduction of vulnerable situations through a global approach based on international cooperation. That would include a strengthening of capacities to avoid future natural disasters through the transfer of appropriate technologies and the development of an advance warning system. Also, it should be based on the resolution adopted by ECOSOC last July, which emphasized the need for donors to provide humanitarian assistance with a view to ensuring a more equitable distribution of assistance across humanitarian emergencies, including those of a protracted nature. In addition, contributions made to humanitarian assistance should not impact negatively on the resources allocated to international cooperation for development. Finally, he stressed the importance of space-based and ground-base remote-sensing technologies for the prevention, mitigation and management of natural disasters.

Mr. SPATAFORA (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, expressed sorrow and condemnation for humanitarian personnel who had lost their lives or were kidnapped while carrying out their noble tasks. However, he stated that condemning such deliberate attacks on relief workers was not enough. The international community must act jointly and decisively to end the culture of impunity wherever it existed. To that end, he welcomed the Security Council’s recent adoption of a resolution on the protection of humanitarian personnel and urged States to comply with its recommendations. He was convinced, as well, that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could play an important role in deterring international attacks on relief workers, as well as serious violations of humanitarian law.

While stressing the need for security, he went on to emphasize the importance of having a United Nations presence in the field during crisis situations. The international community expected the United Nations to be physically present in such situations not only to provide humanitarian assistance, but also to provide protection for those in need. A central challenge, then, was achieving balance between minimizing the security risks while providing a meaningful humanitarian presence. He strongly urged governments, as well as parties to conflict, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies and organizations in providing safe and unimpeded access to vulnerable populations.

The Assembly today must consider several important issues, he continued, including strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance, as well as specific regional and country situations. He would like to see greater emphasis on pressing thematic issues and situations relevant to the humanitarian community. He was convinced that the Assembly’s sectoral policies and guidelines should be country-specific. The European Union provided about half of all global humanitarian assistance, and faced, along with the wider international community, the need to maximize resources, as well as ensure their equitable allocation. The debate launched on "good donorship" and procedural harmonization would contribute significantly to meeting those challenges.

JOHAN L. LOVALD (Norway) said efforts must be intensified on all levels of humanitarian action, from normative work to practical security measures and punitive action against perpetrators. It was time to put renewed energy into strengthening the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. In addition, reinforcement of the Inter-Agency Security Management Network and its cooperation with NGOs must continue. Also, stronger action by States was necessary to ensure threats or acts of violence committed against humanitarian personnel were investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The best protection for humanitarian workers was local understanding and backing. Something had clearly gone wrong when United Nations and humanitarian personnel were viewed as representing an enemy.

It was necessary for humanitarian personnel to have the appropriate instruments and tools to meet need, he stated. Progress had been made in the coordination of humanitarian assistance throughout the past few years, and the Consolidated Appeals Process was one of those well established tools. Nevertheless, there was room for improvement in terms of greater systematic integration of a gender perspective and an increased emphasis on including HIV/AIDS in all relevant programming areas. Overall, the volume of humanitarian assistance was still too small compared to need, and its distribution was far from equitable. Recent studies had shown that much could be done to enhance the efficacy of humanitarian assistance by better coordination between donors. Last June, at the Conference on Good Humanitarian Donorship, principles and actions were adopted to reverse today’s reality, in which the totality of donors’ efforts was less than the sum of individual parts.

AMR ABOUL ATTA (Egypt) called on United Nations organizations and funds to give adequate importance, in the field, to natural disasters and the effects of conflict, at all stages, beginning with early warning and continuing through reconstruction and long-term development. He called on the international community to boost its efforts to adequately support and finance all relief and humanitarian work. He also called on it to intervene urgently to address the humanitarian disaster faced by the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.

Indeed, the Secretary-General’s report had clearly referred to the devastating effects of the Israeli military incursions, curfews and closures on the Palestinian population in the territories. His country appreciated the work being done by UNRWA and other relevant agencies, and urged the wider international community to ensure that such organizations were adequately funded and supported.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that due to frequent outbreaks of natural disasters and armed conflict, as well as the growing threat of the spread of the HIV/AIDS and the aggravation of the refugee and internally displaced persons problem worldwide over the past 12 months, humanitarian assistance faced more serious challenges than ever before. To better respond and overcome those challenges, it was necessary to reiterate the Assembly’s guidelines set out in its resolution 46/182, on the strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance. The United Nations and the international community needed to consistently follow those guidelines in providing humanitarian assistance to affected countries. In doing so, humanity, neutrality and impartiality had to be maintained while respecting sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of recipient nations. Also, humanitarian assistance activities had to be carried out with the consent of and at the request of the affected countries and without any conditionality.

He asserted that adequate funding was a necessary condition and a basic tool for the success of any humanitarian assistance undertaking, as well as for a smooth transition from relief to development. The Consolidated Appeals Process, as a tool of coordination, strategic planning and advocacy, he further pointed out, had time after time played a significant role in humanitarian assistance funding. However, over the years, the proportion of funds that were available through that channel had been continuously on the decrease, a situation that had drawn the close attention of both developed and developing countries. He called on those in a position to do so to actively mobilize resources for humanitarian assistance.

China, he continued, a country also prone to natural disasters, had, within its capacity, continued to give assistance in all forms to other developing countries. That was done in the face of a succession of floods and earthquakes that had taken a heavy economic toll on the country. It had also stepped up its emergency humanitarian and disaster relief assistance efforts. This year, it had provided food assistance to African countries, as well as emergency humanitarian supplies to refugees and earthquake- and flood-affected areas in Africa and Asia.

JENO C.A. STAEHELIN (Switzerland) said recent events had made clear how numerous and significant were the obstacles faced by those working hard to provide humanitarian assistance to needy populations. The international community was just beginning to recover from the deliberate destruction of the United Nations compound in Baghdad, but continued to live with the knowledge of other terrible attacks and abductions perpetrated against International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other relief workers in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. All such acts were unacceptable, and the perpetrators must be punished without delay. Respect for humanitarian law by all parties to a conflict - whether States or armed groups - was crucial for ensuring "humanitarian space" during times of crisis. He urged all that had not done so to sign the relevant protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

In disasters or complex emergencies, the primary role of humanitarian organizations must also be asserted, he said. The coordination of international humanitarian assistance fell to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). That body’s role should be strengthened to allow it to more affectively address the mainspring of relevant activities, mainly ensuring an open dialogue between the developed countries and donors. Switzerland would support those efforts, as well as work to place OCHA’s financing on a more solid footing. It would also work to optimize agency coordination in the field, and explore ways to finance contingency initiatives. He looked forward to the report of the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Development Group on transition from conflict to reconstruction. He also encouraged humanitarian agencies to intensify their efforts towards mitigating the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

YURIY N. ISAKOV (Russian Federation) said that the response of the United Nations to humanitarian situations was often aggravated by epidemics, natural disasters or conflicts, and called for a comprehensive, integrated and coordinated response beyond the traditional, short-term operations. It was, therefore, important to focus on issues of transition from humanitarian relief to reconstruction and development. A smooth transition, with the United Nations leading coordination operations, was key to the success of post-conflict, peace-building efforts. The effectiveness of efforts would greatly depend on the availability of resources. As a result, he supported the idea of a reserve capacity for participants in reconstruction processes, in the event that the response from the donor community was not prompt or adequate.

Strengthening international humanitarian cooperation was necessary, he stated, including better emergency preparedness, enhanced OCHA presence in disaster-prone regions, improved emergency warning networks in case of major emergencies, and use of up-to-date rescue technologies. To that end, Russia had increasingly contributed to humanitarian operations and was gradually restoring its donor capacity. In addition, international cooperation to study and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster remained important. In that regard, OCHA should remain in the lead of international post-Chernobyl cooperation.

SOMAIA S. BARGHOUTI, Observer for Palestine, said the Assembly’s debate was taking place at a time when the economic, social, cultural and environmental deterioration of the occupied Palestinian territories was worsening, as a result of the continuation and intensification of Israeli practices. The Secretary-General’s report had summarized the grave situation, describing increased unemployment of Palestinians, and noting that the capacity of the Palestinian Authority had been hampered just when it was needed most. The strict policies of closure had divided the Palestinian territories into 50 isolated pockets, exacerbating the already severe economic hardships. She was gravely concerned by the report’s statistics, which clearly showed not only rising unemployment but decreased investment and lower wages among Palestinians during the three-year intifada.

She said the report highlighted some 2,600 deaths and over 36,000 injuries during that time. It also highlighted the continued and deliberate Israeli destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, including roads, factories and water and sanitation facilities. All those actions were clear violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law, and it was incumbent on the international community to pressure the occupying Power to abide by those laws and end its destruction and racist expansionist policies. She thanked all Arab States that had provided medical and other assistance. She also thanked the European Union and Japan, which had provided humanitarian assistance.

She called on the wider international community to provide protection for the Palestinian people, who were encircled by Israeli forces. She also called for all to help revive the peace process and spark a return to the negotiating table by both sides. It was clear that there could be no movement towards a comprehensive peace without the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied territories and the full realization of the self-determination of the Palestinian people and the realization of a Palestinian State.

HENNADII RUDENKO (Ukraine) said that the effects of the Chernobyl disaster remained complex. The closing of the station three years ago, which was a voluntary gesture on his nation’s part, had exacerbated the problem. More than 3 million people suffered as a result of the disaster, including 1.2 million children and 160,000 people who were forced to relocate from radioactive territories. The disaster meant that towns, forests and fields were dead, and Ukraine had paid the price for the devastation. The first time was when his country was forced to build the station; then in 1991, when Ukraine dealt with the tragedy alone; and again a third time, when it closed down the electrical station. He regretted that his country had complied with the demands of the international community to close the station, as that had done more harm than good for Ukraine. He drew attention to the fact that each year, 5 to 7 per cent of his national budget was allocated to deal with the disaster. To date, $12 billion had been spent. In addition, Ukraine, by itself, had dealt with the social consequences of its closure.

The moral aspect of the Chernobyl disaster was also enormous, he stated. His delegation urged the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to declare 26 April as a day to remember the victims of the disaster. Grateful for the attention given to Chernobyl by the Secretary-General, he took note of additional efforts by OCHA, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies. However, he wanted more real action rather than just words on paper, and urged nations to step up work with donors and create innovative proposals to mobilize resources. It was imperative that the Chernobyl item remained on the agenda of the Assembly, and that it was considered a humanitarian disaster.

WARREN SNOWDON (Australia) said the tragic events over the past 12 months and the resultant widespread grief, distress and displacement had created enormous humanitarian challenges for the United Nations and for the international community. There should be no impunity for perpetrators of attacks on humanitarian personnel, who must be promptly brought to justice. He observed that strengthened coordination of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance would help to improve its impact and quality on the ground. He strongly supported the role and efforts of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to facilitate coordination of the responses of the United Nations to natural disasters and complex emergencies. He also welcomed the decision of the Organization to establish the Joint Logistics Centre, which had provided important logistics support to humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq and to which Australia had provided financial support.

However, he said there remained ample scope for United Nations organizations to improve collaboration with each other and with OCHA, both at Headquarters and in the field. For that reason, he welcomed further efforts by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the Transitional Working Group and the United Nations Development Group to strengthen coordination frameworks for humanitarian assistance and ensure effective transition to development assistance.

On the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he welcomed the steps taken by the United Nations to enhance the protection of women and children and to prevent their sexual exploitation and abuse. He also called for the recognition of the capacities of women as effective agents for preventing conflict rather than just focusing on their vulnerabilities. He added that, although Australia’s aid programme, which was guided by a specific "Peace, Conflict and Development Policy", was primarily focused on the Asia-Pacific region, it remained committed to help meet humanitarian needs across the globe.

C.P. RADHAKRISHNAN (India) pointed out that while overall humanitarian aid since 1990 had doubled, it was a source of concern that such growth had been accompanied by an overall decline in ODA flows. Humanitarian assistance needed to be provided in a way that was not to the detriment of resources made available for development cooperation. That was important because it was development assistance that, in the long term, reduced the need for emergency humanitarian assistance. Recent events, he said, had clearly demonstrated that the United Nations could not fulfil the role of humanitarian assistance delivery if the safety and security of its personnel was not assured.

He said that the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance had to be on the basis of the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality. Such assistance should never be used as a bargaining tool by those dealing with political issues. Similarly, development assistance provided by the United Nations needed to respect the principles of neutrality and country-driven programming. In a post-conflict scenario, affected governments may not be best placed to assert their own priorities and the Organization thus needed to provide assistance for capacity-building. In addition, the mandate of peacekeeping operations also needed to be defined in a manner that did not result in their being seen as partial. Furthermore, he described the tendency to see transition situations as opportunities to fundamentally transform social mores, recast economic priorities and influence political dynamics as "most regrettable", cautioning that the United Nations would, if it joined such efforts, risk jeopardizing its status as a trusted partner of developing countries.