Organized by the Center for International Health and
Law School, Amphitheatre Fordham University, 2 June 2003
The challenges of the 1990s have continued into the first years of the 21st century. The last decade witnessed an increase in the number of people affected by humanitarian crises. For example, by 2001, natural disasters a major cause of humanitarian crises affected some 215 million people. Meanwhile, the capacity of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) economies to absorb such shocks has been eroded and the increasing occurrence of extreme natural events will increasingly contribute to faltering or failing development. Tragically, armed conflict is also continuing in many countries around the world, bringing with it forced displacement, the targeting of innocent civilians and violations of human rights. The alarming spread of HIV/AIDS has increased the vulnerability of communities affected by humanitarian emergencies, creating greater levels of dependency and severely reducing their ability to cope when crisis strikes. Armed conflict further creates and exacerbates the conditions, and the human rights abuses, in which the HIV/AIDS crisis flourishes.
This presentation considers the issue of Humanitarian Action in the LDCs. This is particularly relevant as over half of the countries currently receiving humanitarian assistance from the UN, are LDCs. This assistance usually takes different forms depending on the humanitarian crisis it is responding to. Such crises are conflicts, natural disasters, diseases and human rights violations. The vulnerability of LDCs to these crises puts them on the priority list to receive humanitarian assistance. This paper will equally examine the existing challenges to Humanitarian Assistance in LDCs including the role of the Security Council in such matters. The UN system organizations involved in humanitarian assistance in LDCs are analyzed here. Finally, this presentation concludes with the idea of humanitarian assistance as a continuum for development.
I. Humanitarian Assistance and the
Since the 1960s, the United Nations has been paying special attention to the LDCs recognizing those countries as the most vulnerable of the international community. In order to generate international attention and action to reverse the continuing deterioration of the socio-economic condition of these most vulnerable countries, the United Nations has held three conferences on the LDCs since 1980 with each adopting a decade-long Programme of Action. The Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in
The Brussels POA is articulated through a set of seven specific commitments made by the LDCs and their development partners. These commitments relate to the following areas:
1) Fostering a people-centered policy framework;
2) Good governance at national and international levels;
3) Building human and institutional capacities;
4) Building productive capacities to make globalization work for the LDCs;
5) Enhancing the role of trade in development;
6) Reducing vulnerability and protecting the environment and
7) Mobilizing financial resources.
In regards to the relevance of the Brussels PoA to Humanitarian Action in the LDCs, two commitments can be pointed out: First of all Commitment 2 provides for good governance at the national and international levels which in the case of a humanitarian crises, can work as a prevention of future crises especially conflicts and human rights abuses. Secondly, Commitment 3 advocates the building of human and institutional capacities in which social integration is a crucial point. Within this context, the BPoA states that action by development partners should concentrate on providing a greater financial response to UN consolidated humanitarian appeals in respect of LDCs.
II. Humanitarian Assistance: Issues and challenges
There is a general assumption that development co-operation has been replaced by humanitarian assistance and/or relief assistance. While development co-operation is defined by its long-term objectives, humanitarian assistance and relief operations are seen as short-term aid, which involves immediate survival assistance to the victims of crises (e.g. natural disasters) and violent conflicts. The general humanitarian principles constitute the framework within which aid is delivered – impartiality, neutrality, access, and parties’ responsibility.
Although some humanitarians realized early on that humanitarian assistance was not always helpful or even benign, the misuse by participants in the genocide in Rwanda of humanitarian aid in UN border camps (in then Zaire) brought home to humanitarian organizations in a dramatic way the potential negative effects of humanitarian action. Those who had perpetrated the genocide in Rwanda used aid extorted from legitimate refugees (many of them women and children) to buy arms and feed militias in order to conduct incursions into Rwanda from Zaire with the intent of continuing acts of genocide. They intimidated anyone who stood in their way, including Hutus who wished to return to
Over time, it is widely felt that it is better to do nothing than to contribute to the harm being done to a civilian population. This is easier said than done in terms of practice, however, given the ethical dilemmas humanitarian organizations face in deciding when to provide assistance and when to decline to provide it.
Currently, 30 of the 49 LDCs receive some form of humanitarian assistance†. These LDCs are subject to various forms of humanitarian crises such as those arising from conflicts as in the Horn of Africa. Others arise from natural disasters as witnessed in the South African droughts. Moreover, widespread diseases such as Malaria and HIV/AIDS are the cause of humanitarian crises seen in the
These crises themselves are the cause of phenomena such as internally displaced persons, water and sanitation issues including other health concerns, food security problems, etc.
Issues and challenges:
a) Security challenges in delivering Humanitarian Assistance in conflict situations
Internal armed conflicts are on the rise. What concerns us is the most is the increasing tendency by the parties to a conflict of targeting non-combatants – civilians, including, the United Nations and associated personnel and humanitarian personnel. Over the last decade, United Nations personnel have faced increasingly high risks when carrying out their duties, which often require them to work in volatile and dangerous environments. Two hundred and nine United Nations staff members lost their lives between January 1992 and March 2002. Of these more than half (111) died from gunshot wounds, another 52 were victims of ethnic violence, 28 were killed in aircraft accidents, and 16 were victims of other acts such as bombing and landmine explosions. further 255 staff members have been taken hostage and many others have fallen victim to crimes such as robbery, rape, assault and car-jacking (of particular reference the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel). While governments have a responsibility to protect humanitarian workers, it must also be recognized that the United Nations has a duty to care for its workforce and a clear responsibility to ensure that measures are put into place to ensure their continued safety. In December 2001, the General Assembly adopted a resolution strengthening security considerably. Measures include the appointment of a full-time security coordinator, as well as professional security officers employed at United Nations Headquarters in
b) Lack of financial resources
The consolidated appeals process put in place by the United Nations, while it remains the single most significant mechanism for humanitarian resource mobilization, there has been a steady decline in the proportion of humanitarian assistance channeled through it. This proportion has fallen from an average of 40 per cent to an average of 30 per cent over the past decade. In real terms, the process lost 10 per cent of “market share”, equivalent to US$ 560 million in 2001. Much of this seems to have been redirected towards nongovernmental organizations.
Overall levels of humanitarian funding have remained static “in real terms” which has resulted in a decline in the resources available in proportion to the increasing levels of need. Even where there are major and significant humanitarian crises, aid flows have not increased to respond to these large-scale emergencies but resources have been diverted from other appeals. In such circumstances, unless there are real increases in the levels of humanitarian assistance, “forgotten emergencies” are inevitable. What constitutes a “major” emergency can be dictated by political or strategic interest, and most significantly, by the media. The past eight years have demonstrated a clear trend of resources tending to congregate around the highest profile humanitarian crises for that year. Each year, one or two appeals, specifically, the Great Lakes region and the former
Within appeals, certain sectors have traditionally been well supported, while others are routinely under-funded. Food assistance dominates the response.
Over the past two years, approximately 60 per cent of all global contributions to the consolidated appeals process consisted of support to the food sector. There is thus a need for a more comprehensive picture of the totality of humanitarian needs and assistance flows. The absence of a global humanitarian financial tracking system is an obstacle to effective coordination.
c) Need for more efficient international humanitarian legislation
Events of the last few years, including the growing toll of civilian deaths and the frequency and severity of assaults on humanitarian personnel, have demonstrated a continuing and possibly increasing disregard for the provisions of international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law. This has severely hampered the ability to provide humanitarian assistance and protection. To address this, humanitarian and human rights agencies have enhanced their efforts to advocate for and promote the ratification and implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law instruments. Ratification needs to be accompanied by a better understanding of and a commitment to comply with the terms of those instruments. The Inter-Agency
Standing Committee is developing strategies and initiatives to enhance the integration of human rights into humanitarian action. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol are not yet truly universal, as many States have yet to accede to these instruments. To date, 143 countries have ratified the 1951 Convention but this figure is low compared to the number of states, which have signed other human rights instruments. Throughout 2001 and 2002, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees conducted a series of global consultations on international protection to revitalize the framework for refugee protection and support Member States in addressing current humanitarian challenges.
d) Problem of short-term aid with negative consequences:
When a humanitarian crisis arises in an LDC, temporary humanitarian assistance is not enough. Rather programs should adapt themselves in an agreed-upon and integrated manner in sync with the actions of humanitarian assistance operations. The aid should, in this way, stress the importance of prevention and preparation before the likelihood of any humanitarian catastrophe. In turn, the operations of humanitarian assistance, like those of aid for development, should guarantee that the proper steps can be taken to go from immediate emergency assistance to the posterior stages of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development.
III. Role of the United Nations Security Council in humanitarian assistance
The UN Charter gives the Security Council the power under Article 24(1) and Chapter VII to take any measures necessary to “restore international peace and security”. These provisions allow the Security Council to authorize action based on subsequent agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If consensus can be reached in the Council that a humanitarian disaster is a threat to international peace and security then the UN can take action. This represents a major turning point in the role of the Security Council in humanitarian assistance.
The Security Council recognizes the importance of the humanitarian dimension to the maintenance of international peace and security and to its consideration of humanitarian issues relating to the protection of all civilians and other non-combatants in situations of armed conflict‡. Humanitarian crises can be both causes and consequences of conflicts and that they can affect the Council’s efforts to prevent and end conflicts, and to deal with other threats to international peace and security. Furthermore, full and timely support for humanitarian components can be critical in ensuring and enhancing the sustainability of any peace agreement and post-conflict peace-building.
The Security Council affirms that timely consideration of the following humanitarian issues contributes to the prevention of escalation of conflicts and to the maintenance of international peace and security: access for United Nations and associated personnel, other humanitarian personnel and humanitarian supplies to the war affected civilians; humanitarian components in peace agreements and peacekeeping operations; coordination between the Council and the relevant United Nations organs and agencies and regional bodies; and resource constraints.
The Security Council notes that full and timely support for humanitarian components can be critical in ensuring and enhancing the sustainability of any peace agreement and post-conflict peace building. It emphasizes the importance of inclusion of humanitarian elements in peace negotiations and agreements including the issue of prisoners of war, detainees and missing persons and other protected by international humanitarian law.
The Security Council recognizes the role played by international humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations in providing humanitarian assistance and alleviating the impact of humanitarian crises, and further recognizes the specific mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in this regard. It emphasizes the importance for these organizations to uphold the principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity in their humanitarian activities.
In regards to these challenges, the Security Council has noted with concern that inadequate financial support can undermine efforts to address human suffering in certain contexts. The Council recognizes the need for appropriate financial support for humanitarian activities, and calls for adequate funding of humanitarian activities, bilateral or otherwise, in particular in support of multilateral efforts. The Council notes the importance of early engagement and dispersal of funds from the international financial institutions.
The most important examples of the role of the Security Council in humanitarian assistance in LDCs are
IV. UN system organizations involved in Humanitarian Assistance to LDCs including other multilateral organizations
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) was established in June 1992 in response to General Assembly Resolution 46/182 that called for strengthened coordination of humanitarian assistance. Within the humanitarian community IASC provides a forum that brings together a broad range of UN and non-UN humanitarian partners including UN humanitarian agencies, IOM, three consortia of major international NGOs and the Red Cross movement represented by ICRC and IFRC. The primary role of the IASC is to formulate humanitarian policy to ensure coordinated and effective humanitarian response to both complex emergency and to natural disasters. Its members comprise the following UN agencies:
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is part of the United Nations Secretariat and has the mandate to coordinate UN assistance in humanitarian crises that go beyond the capacity and mandate of any single humanitarian agency. Today’s humanitarian emergencies are both multidimensional and complex, and many actors-such as Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies and individuals-seek to respond simultaneously. OCHA works with them to ensure that there is a coherent framework within which each actor can contribute effectively and promptly to the overall effort. The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs was established in 1992 specifically to address this need. The effectiveness of OCHA was enhanced by a sharper focus, more active inter-agency cooperation, and a streamlining of procedures for support of field coordination.
There are three major ways in which OCHA fulfils its role:
(1) It coordinates the international humanitarian response, including contingency planning when appropriate. When a major complex crisis breaks, OCHA consults with the UN Country Team through the UN Resident and/or Humanitarian Coordinator in the country(ies) concerned and undertakes inter-agency consultation at headquarters to reach agreement on the main humanitarian priorities for action. OCHA then provides support for the coordination of activities in-country. It also assists in resource mobilization by launching interagency appeals and in monitoring progress of relief efforts.
(2) It provides the humanitarian community with support in policy development. OCHA also tries to ensure that major humanitarian issues are addressed, including those that fall between the existing mandates of humanitarian organizations.
(3) It advocates on humanitarian issues, giving voice to the silent victims of crises and ensuring that the views and concerns of the broad humanitarian community are reflected in overall efforts towards recovery and peace-building.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 5,000 people in more than 120 countries continues to help an estimated 19.8 million persons.
The UNHCR is present in the following LDCs:
Huge swathes of
In May 2001, nearly one year after an intermittent war between
The World Food Programme (WFP) believes that Hunger is the first emergency in any crisis. In 2001, WFP food aid reached 43 million people caught up in the ever-widening net of humanitarian disasters. The rising tide of civil conflict, war and natural disasters in the world’s poorest nations has led to a near explosion in food emergencies. In the 1990s, the share of global aid budgets devoted to disaster relief and humanitarian aid climbed by more than 500 percent. This, of course, puts WFP on the frontline. By 2000, assistance for victims of floods, drought, crop failure and conflict accounted for one third of all the Agency’s food aid. WFP currently undertakes humanitarian assistance to the following LDCs:
For Example: WFP’s activities in
UNICEF was first known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations system, its task being to help children living in poverty in developing countries. Its name was shortened to the United Nations Children’s Fund, but it retained the acronym “UNICEF,” by which it is known to this day.
UNICEF helps children get the care and stimulation they need in the early years of life and encourages families to educate girls as well as boys. It strives to reduce childhood death and illness and to protect children in the midst of war and natural disaster. UNICEF supports young people, wherever they are, in making informed decisions about their own lives, and strives to build a world in which all children live in dignity and security.
UNICEF’s governing body of 36 nations, representing all regions of the world, establishes policies, reviews programs and approves budgets for the organization. Headquartered in
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): Drawing heavily on its work in areas such as support for democratic governance and poverty reduction,
UNDP has a well-established track record in building, consolidating, and preserving the peace. From Mozambique and Afghanistan to Guatemala and Albania, UNDP has played a major role in helping countries make the transition to a development- oriented agenda by promoting the rule of law and good governance; justice and security; demobilizing soldiers; reducing the flow of small arms; supporting mine action; and providing war-affected populations with alternative livelihoods. In responding to natural disasters, UNDP has worked from Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo to
Today, 90 percent of deaths in wars are civilian, 11 million refugees are seeking protection, and there are 20 to 25 million internally displaced persons around the world. In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders unanimously endorsed a set of international development goals, including the overarching goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. Reaching those goals, however, will require greater attention of the international community to issues of crisis prevention and recovery.
UNDP supports these goals with its partners and other UN agencies by strengthening coordination mechanisms to: work together more effectively with national governments, agencies, donors and other aid partners; prevent a crisis, mitigate natural disasters, response planning and transition to recovery; reinforce in-country cooperation; support resource mobilization; develop national capacities to reduce the continued impact of residual weapons, such as land mines, on social and economic infrastructure and livelihoods; strengthen and implement policies and programmes that incorporate conflict prevention and peace-building perspectives; support strengthening of justice, the rule of law and human security; and support demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants in order to protect civilians from post-conflict eruptions and to reduce the impact of illicit small arms proliferation and availability.
Other multilateral organizations: involved in Humanitarian Assistance: FAO; WHO; ICRC (red cross); IOM (migration); PAHO; IFRC (red cross and red crescent) Other regional organisations include international development banks, regional economic organizations and NGOs.
These organizations work closely with the above UN system organizations in delivering effective humanitarian assistance to LDCs.
VI. Humanitarian assistance as a continuum for development
Efforts to reach and aid the most vulnerable persons affected by crises can only be sustained if there is a clear strategy for moving as quickly as possible away from the simple provision of emergency relief and towards a more comprehensive humanitarian and development assistance programme . Experience has shown the importance of linking relief to development at the earliest possible stage. The transition from relief to development is more than an economic process. It involves institutional change that engages the full participation of society and establishes the basis for stability through recognition of the human rights of civilians. The ways in which humanitarian actors negotiate for access to needy populations, target assistance, and organize delivery often have an important impact on local communities and politics.
It is important to ensure that the way aid is provided does not weaken or destroy any existing coping mechanisms. In fact, assistance efforts should provide the seeds of future recovery and rehabilitation, by strengthening local capacities and encouraging communities to begin, even in the midst of crisis, to make their own way towards sustainable development.
VII. Transition from Relief to Development
A key lesson is that there can be no transition to development without the involvement and participation of the community and local structures and institutions. Frequently, humanitarian assistance still focuses on the issue of meeting needs and can all too easily ignore the importance of involving the beneficiaries in managing and shaping their lives.
The transition from relief to development is a critical period in the formation of capable and effective institutions, which are a prerequisite to a return to stability. Yet such periods are often marred by resentment when humanitarian actors do not effectively engage nascent and developing structures.
Closing the funding gap between relief and development can also be made more difficult by the conditionality of assistance. There are a number of circumstances in which donors attach conditions to the provision of development assistance. However, humanitarian assistance must be provided without such conditionality.
In the most recent response to the
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations country team produced its second annual all-in-one “United Nations Plan”, fusing together elements of the United Nations humanitarian appeal, the common assessment and the development framework into a unitary approach.
VIII. Case of Natural Disasters
The case of natural disasters offers the opportunity to analyze how best to make the transition from relief to development and to observe how humanitarian assistance should work towards a continuum for development.
The transition from relief to development following natural disasters should specifically seek to reduce the vulnerability to future hazards. As an El Niño cycle begins, many parts of the world will have to contend with the more frequent and in all probability, more extensive occurrences of droughts and floods.
Unfortunately, as the risks and frequency of natural hazards increase, the capacity of many societies to withstand and cope with the impact of such events is diminishing. Overall vulnerabilities to natural disasters are increasing. Some of the reasons for this are linked to the process of development. For example, rapid levels of urbanization leading to the growth of ‘megacities’ have frequently been associated with a fragile infrastructure, where many people are concentrated in high-risk housing with fragile services. Inevitably, with urbanization, people have lost their traditional coping mechanisms and support systems, so that when disaster strikes there are higher levels of destruction and less ability to recover livelihoods. The process of development can also erode the capacity to establish, manage and implement appropriate regulatory frameworks that afford a degree of protection to the vulnerable segments of the population and are a critical element in preparedness and mitigation measures. The weakness of land-use management and land-zoning regulations, coupled with the inability to apply adequate building and construction standards, places more people at risk, as the poor settle in more hazardous areas and the level of damage created by natural hazards increases. Annually, over 200 million people are affected by natural disasters and this figure is likely to increase. The loss of personal assets, livelihoods and infrastructure involved puts a considerable brake on development. The successful transition from relief to development is therefore inextricably linked with decreasing risks and the impact of natural hazards. Just as sustainable development processes are now incorporating environmental planning, it is now imperative to fully integrate disaster risk assessments and reduction strategies in national and regional planning. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Disaster Reduction can contribute to this goal, by providing a dedicated international mechanism, which is essential for building avenues of collaboration among humanitarian and development strategies. Disaster risk management also needs to be better integrated into the United Nations humanitarian and development planning processes, such as the consolidated appeals process and the common country assessment/United Nations Development Assistance Framework process.
I will conclude this paper by quoting the Commission on Human Security co-chaired by Sadako Ogato and Amartya Sen:
“The relationship between humanitarian and development action is often equally complex, particularly if effective humanitarian aid weakens the incentive to develop sustainable political and development solutions. More humanitarian actors – accustomed to rapid, short-term engagements – are now involved in areas normally the domain of development assistance, as in post-conflict situations. And more development actors such as the World Bank – accustomed to long-term and more participatory institution-building approaches – are working in conflict rather than around it. The cross-fertilization between approaches with different time horizons and methods of operation could be fruitful. Recognition of the relationship between conflict and development challenges the strongly ingrained view that conflicts are aberrations of the progress towards development rather than inherently related to it”.
The essential question to be raised is why the international community waits until humanitarian crises take crises proportions, to act, especially after so many years of experience in dealing with such situations?
†Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Chad, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo (DR), Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Haiti, Afghanistan and Yemen.
‡Statement made during my presidency of the Security Council in March 2000 in consideration of the item: “Maintaining peace and security: Humanitarian aspects of issues before the Security Council”
Documents of reference
– General Assembly Resolution A/Res/57/153 “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”, 2003
– General Assembly Resolution (3 March 2003): “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, 2003
– General Assembly Resolution (23 January 2003) “New international humanitarian order”, 2003
– General Assembly Resolution A/Res/57/152 (3 March 2003): “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, 2003
– Report of the Secretary-General: “UN Reform and Humanitarian Affairs”, 16 July 1997
– ECOSOC E/2002/12: Ad hoc advisory group on African countries emerging from conflict, 2002
– UNICEF publication on behalf of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee: “Growing the sheltering tree: Protecting rights through humanitarian action”, 2002
– Statement by President of the Security Council in consideration of the following item: “Maintaining peace and security: Humanitarian aspects of issues before the Security Council”, 13 March 2000
– Statement by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdury on “Protection of UN, Associated Personnel and Humanitarian Personnel” at the open Debate in the Security Council, 9 February 2000
– Sadako Ogato and Amartya Sen. Commission on Human Security. “Human Security Now: Protecting and empowering people”.