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High-Level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council on Strengthening Collaboration between the United Nations Development System and the Bretton Woods Institutions | Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

High-Level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council on Strengthening Collaboration between the United Nations Development System and the Bretton Woods Institutions | Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

28 June 1996

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you UNHCR's views on how to strengthen the collaboration between the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions. UNHCR is not a development agency but has a fundamental interest in the issues being discussed today.

A lack of sustainable development contributes to socio-economic tensions that can lead to conflict. The forcible displacement of populations is often the result of the failure of development, and in turn tends to negatively affect progress towards development in refugee hosting countries or regions. I welcome the increasing recognition that is given to the adoption of a system-wide sectoral approach to development, as proposed in the Special Initiative for Africa. I also welcome the attention paid to the possible adverse effects of structural reform programmes on social stability.

Today I should, however, like to concentrate on the interphasing of humanitarian action aimed at achieving durable refugee repatriation and reconstruction and development. As you know, in addition to providing protection and assistance to refugees in exile, the ultimate objective of my Office is to identify and help implement solutions to their plight, and in most cases their voluntary repatriation and re-integration is the most desirable solution. From this perspective one of the greatest challenges is therefore the rehabilitation of conflict-torn societies, such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Mozambique, among others.

Mr President, societies devastated in whole or in part by conflict must be helped to get back on their feet again to enable safe and dignified repatriation of the refugees, to achieve reconciliation and political stability and to resume the process of development. These are all interlocking aspects of peace building. However, I wish to impress on you especially that the return of refugees and internally displaced persons is vital for community reconciliation, which in turn is an important element for reconstruction and development. At the same time, reconstruction or the lack of it has a direct impact on the chances for and the pace of repatriation.

Experience has shown that the transition from relief to rehabilitation is not a sequential process of activities and programmes, whereby life-saving humanitarian assistance is gradually replaced by life-sustaining rehabilitation which turns into sustainable development. In practice, the situation is far more complicated, if only because there may often not be a clear disjuncture separating peace from war. Peace is rarely established, it must be built, and some insecurity may linger on. This reality explains one of the reasons of the serious gaps that occur in international reconstruction efforts.

In conflict situations, humanitarian agencies are often the only operational actors present, trying to provide protection and assistance to local populations and fleeing civilians. Following a peace settlement, the emergency relief operation must switch immediately to a solution focused operation, as we are attempting in Bosnia and Rwanda. The planning, programme and funding cycles, which characterize development and reconstruction programmes are, however, not geared towards the kind of rapid progress which returning refugee and local communities require.

Delays in the rehabilitation of conflict-torn states are serious, as they may hamper progress toward refugee repatriation and thus toward reconciliation. In Bosnia for example, one obstacle to refugee repatriation is the lack of adequate shelter, due to the destruction and occupation of homes. Especially the vicious cycle of house occupation, which is a source of tension, must be broken. Together with its partners, my Office has therefore taken the initiative to identify eighteen key areas where targeted reconstruction could enable 165,000 persons to return this year. It is essential that the dividends of peace become visible more quickly to support peace-building efforts.

Elsewhere, to overcome the gap between relief and rehabilitation, we have developed Quick Impact Projects (QIPs). They have been quite successful in, for example, Central America, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Mozambique. They are projects designed to bring visible and immediate benefits to returning refugees and, this is important, to the areas receiving them, thus functioning also as small but meaningful engines for development.

Obviously, filling all gaps would go beyond the mandate and capacity of my Office. We are therefore strengthening our cooperation with the development agencies and the Bretton Woods Institutions. Memoranda of Understanding have been agreed with WFP, UNICEF and UNFPA, based upon the comparative advantage of each agency. Currently, UNHCR and UNDP are reviewing their joint cooperation agreement to take into account the lessons learned from various operations. In addition to our cooperation with UNDP in Central America within the context of CIREFCA, country specific agreements have been agreed on Cambodia, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Tajikistan.

We are engaged in a close dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions, notably as the World Bank, together with the European Union, is spearheading the reconstruction efforts in Bosnia. In Rwanda, the Bank has channelled funds through my Office. I very much welcome the Bank's emphasis on the eradication of poverty as a concrete step toward the prevention of forced human displacement. We are also seeking a close policy dialogue with the International Monetary Fund given the interrelationship between economic and social stability, especially in states undergoing political and economic transition, for instance in the CIS region.

Mr President, although significant progress has been achieved toward strengthening the collaboration between the UN system and the Bretton Wood Institutions, additional steps can be taken. I believe that a new approach to post-conflict rehabiliation is needed, dynamically linking relief to development. Let me therefore conclude my statement with the following points.

First and foremost, a fundamental re-examination is necessary of current planning assumptions, methods and funding procedures. The international tools need to be readjusted to the new realities of war-torn societies, in which programmes must be implemented in often uncertain conditions. Secondly, the objective should be to fill the gaps but avoid overlaps, taking into account the differing competence and expertise required for emergency response, rehabilitation and development. Thirdly, the partnership between UN and other agencies and with the Bretton Woods institutions must be strengthened, on the basis of predictable relationships. Regional institutions, such as the African and Asian Development Banks, have gained prominence in recent years. The European Union, and in particular ECHO, is an important donor as well as actor. Non-governmental agencies are ideal partners given their commitment, speed, flexibility and community-based approach. Fourthly, we are advocating a "third window" of financing to channel funds from humanitarian and development sources for use by both humanitarian and development agencies in the process of rehabilitation. And my fifth and last point would be that regional or sub-regional perspectives must be adopted, taking into account the impact upon neighbouring countries of humanitarian crises and their contribution to restoring social, political and economic stability.

Mr President, I am convinced that the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions can together contribute substantially to rehabilitation, refugee repatriation and development, and thus to peace. This should be one of our main common challenges in the years to come.

Thank you.