Image: UNICEF/Alex Nicodim
New York: Global cooperation is critical to confront the surge in suffering due to conflict, climate disruption, hunger, the rising cost of living, and the COVID-19 pandemic. senior UN officials said on Tuesday at a meeting organized by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to strengthen delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The three-day ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) brings together UN agencies, diplomats, aid workers, the private sector and other partners, to discuss current and emerging challenges, as well as priorities, and to share experiences and lessons learned.
ECOSOC President Collen Kelapile recalled that the world is witnessing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, and disregard of international humanitarian law remains a significant concern.
“The constraints to humanitarian access continue to prevent affected people from receiving life-saving assistance. Too often humanitarian personnel are harassed, threatened and even killed,” he said.
Preparation is vital
Mr. Kelapile urged participants to learn from the pandemic to adapt their work and better prepare for future crises. He also called for greater accountability and strengthening respect for international humanitarian law.
“We need to preserve the humanitarian space and work to ensure that people in situations of vulnerability receive the assistance they need,” he added.
“We need better understanding of the humanitarian impacts of climate change and prepare for the ever-growing threats that the crisis will bring. This spirit of cooperation is much needed to overcome the massive challenges ahead of us.”
In his remarks, Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted how UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are taking action every day to support people in need.
“These challenges require us to step up our efforts to support a strong, flexible, well-resourced humanitarian system that is better equipped to reach and protect even the most isolated and marginalized people,” he said in a video message to the meeting.
Step up funding
Mr. Guterres advocated for a humanitarian system centred around people’s needs, among other attributes, and which supports local partners on the front lines, especially women and women’s organizations.
The UN chief also reported that a humanitarian appeal for Ukraine now stands at 70 per cent funded, but needs are rising rapidly across the world.
To respond, he called for stepping up both sustainable solutions and financial support, aiding pandemic recovery in every country, and protecting the future by limiting global warming.
Strengthening humanitarian assistance must be synonymous with preventing humanitarian crises, the President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, told attendees.
Protect humanitarian workers
“Humanitarian aid relief and assistance are already at the forefront of climate emergencies. We must diversify humanitarian assistance, in a manner that brings in the expertise and skills of local communities,” he said.
Mr. Shahid also focused on the dangers humanitarians face in delivering aid, adding that more must be done to ensure their safety.
“With your ongoing support and commitments, not only can we strengthen humanitarian assistance but protect the lives of the many selfless humanitarian workers in the field,” he said.
Record numbers in need
UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths warned that the “global megacrises” today are growing at a speed and scale that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress in development, governance and social protection.
More than 300 million people across the planet require humanitarian assistance, a figure that has never been higher, while the number of displaced people and refugees has topped 100 million, another “historic marker”.
Collectively, UN humanitarian appeals this year total $46 billion. “We usually receive just over half of that,” he said.
Mr. Griffiths called for “shifting tactics”, starting with making surplus food stocks available and removing blockages to the trade in food and fertilizer.
Like the Secretary-General, he also called for putting the needs and priorities of beneficiaries at the heart of humanitarian work, “not just to listen to them, but to be instructed by them.”
Empower NGO partners
He added that the humanitarian, development and peace-building communities must also work together, “not one following the other”.
Meanwhile, greater action is needed on humanitarian negotiations and access in places like Ethiopia, the Central Sahel, Ukraine and Yemen.
The humanitarian sector must be as anticipatory as possible, he continued, stressing the importance of preparation.
“In the case of natural disasters, we have opportunities to be better prepared to put aid in place, to preserve assets in case of crisis, and we need to this more frequently, more reliably, and again, in concert with communities that will be hit.”
Lastly, the UN relief chief insisted that local non-governmental organizations, civil society and aid agencies on the ground must be given a bigger role in the humanitarian space.
“They see suffering every single day. They know what’s needed to make a real difference, and they are our messengers, as well as our advocates, as well as our deliverers,” he said.
“We need to empower them, we need to bring them closer into our councils, and we need to support them in their efforts and in their desire to extend their reach.”