Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Economic and Social Council on "Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance; Emergency Relief and the Continuum to Rehabilitation and Development," Geneva, 1 July 1993

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Economic and Social Council on "Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance; Emergency Relief and the Continuum to Rehabilitation and Development," Geneva, 1 July 1993

1 July 1993

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome the focus of this year's coordination segment of ECOSOC on the question of "Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance; Emergency Relief and the Continuum to Rehabilitation and Development." I believe this item covers two distinct questions. Firstly, how can we strengthen and make more effective the collective efforts of the international community in providing humanitarian assistance in complex emergency situations? Secondly, how do we define and enhance the relationship between emergency, rehabilitation and development assistance, in order to ensure a smooth and seamless transition?

UNHCR is painfully aware of the need for improved coordination of humanitarian assistance. The demands on my Office are so numerous, the challenges so complex, our capacity to meet them so stretched and the resources to respond so limited, that a constant priority for my Office is to reinforce the links with existing partners and search for new ones in a coordinated international humanitarian effort. In this sense, coordination and partnership are more than abstract concepts. They are a daily goal of my Office.

We have already reinforced our cooperation, in particular with UNICEF and WFP. In former Yugoslavia, UNHCR as lead agency, working in close cooperation with UNICEF, WFP and WHO, as well as with the ICRC, IOM and numerous non-governmental organizations, are providing protection and relief assistance to some 3.8 million refugees, displaced and other affected persons in the largest European refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. It is in the context of such complex emergencies that coordination becomes important in mobilizing international response and in focusing on existing capacities.

In looking at a swift, coordinated response in complex emergencies, one important unresolved question is:What is meant by a complex humanitarian emergency? Like many of our sister agencies, I believe that defining the concept would be most useful to distinguish those situations where the special involvement of DHA is essential from those situations where existing capacities and expertise can be brought to bear satisfactorily.

In my view an emergency is complex when its causes are mixed and when its very magnitude makes it difficult for any single agency to handle the emergency on its own. Somalia is a clear example. Here, there is obviously a need to mobilize a range of actors and coordinate their inputs in order to maximize their output. I welcomed the establishment of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the appointment of Ambassador Jan Eliasson as Emergency Relief Coordinator. In a situation like Somalia, we look to the leadership of the Secretary-General and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs to assign primary responsibility to the most appropriate agency and charge it with directing the relief effort, supported by agencies which the Department should mobilize to provide secondary support. DHA should facilitate cooperation while the agencies should continue to operate on the ground.

There continue to be classical refugee emergencies which are not "complex". In such situations, UNHCR is in a position readily to assume its mandatory responsibility to provide protection and assistance to refugees. When some 200,000 Togolese refugees entered Benin and Ghana, in early 1993, UNHCR sought the support of the relevant UN agencies, primarily WFP and UNICEF, as well as a number of NGOs. We despatched our Emergency Response Teams and drew upon our Emergency Fund - which was increased in December of 1992 to $ 25 million - allocating a total of $ 3 million before mounting a $ 9.9 million programme for which funding is now urgently being sought.

The capacity to deliver is as necessary a pre-requisite for improved system-wide coordination to address complex humanitarian emergencies as for classical refugee emergencies. For this reason, my Office has sought to strengthen its emergency response capacity. We have set up five regional Emergency Response Teams. We have also concluded agreements to draw upon the stockpiles and standby capacity of governmental and non-governmental bodies specialized in emergencies. In taking these measures, I have enjoyed the strong support and endorsement of my Executive Committee.

In 1992, UNHCR mounted emergency programmes for over three million people in former Yugoslavia, for some 420,000 refugees in Kenya, for some 260,000 refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh and for the influx of asylum-seekers from Bhutan into Nepal. Emergency Response Teams were sent to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan in early December 1992 in hopes of preventing further displacement, meeting humanitarian needs and encouraging return.

In my view, there is no need for new mechanisms, but clearly a need to strengthen the combined use of existing ones, so that staff can be deployed rapidly to emergency situations. Existing capacities must be assessed and appropriately strengthened before resorting to costly new arrangements.

The international community should seek to draw upon the unique mandates and specific expertise of the various United Nations agencies and NGOs, in an effort to enhance comparative advantages. This is an important premise of resolution 46/182. Only after such a thorough assessment of mandates and existing capacities would we be in a position to decide whether new mechanisms are required, such as UN rapid intervention teams. This position was also taken in discussions within the framework of the ACC at its meeting in Rome last April.

Is enhanced operationality a necessary pre-requisite for the effective discharge of the DHA's coordination and mobilization function? I believe it is not. Resolution 46/182 did not intend to create an additional layer of bureaucracy in complex humanitarian emergency situations nor a new operational agency. Utmost care must be taken to avoid such an additional layer, especially if we are to ensure that the largest possible proportion of available resources actually reaches the victims. There is a fundamental difference between facilitating cooperation and undertaking operational activities themselves. This distinction must be maintained. The ultimate goal of enhanced cooperation must be to ensure that the "whole" constituted by the individual efforts of UN agencies, bilateral cooperation and non-governmental organizations is greater than the sum of its parts and results in "value added", performance and results.

Innovative models of cooperation among Governments, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations may already be found in humanitarian operations implemented in Cambodia, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. I believe that the "lead-agency" concept for coordination of assistance has proved its value. At its April meeting, the ACC called for further examination of the lead-agency concept and of entrusting primary responsibility, either at the sectoral level or sub-national level, to the appropriate agency or organization, under the overall coordination of DHA. The Department should explore the most advantageous division of primary and secondary responsibilities, e.g. who leads and who supports in a particular complex emergency situation.

Like the new generation of peace-keeping, humanitarian action is having to focus increasingly on internal rather than inter-state problems, both in the context of returning refugees and internally displaced persons. Whether in Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia or Mozambique, the complex relationship between peace-making, peace-keeping and humanitarian action has come to the fore. The adequate coordination of these efforts is critical as they are ultimately interlinked. Advocating greater sensitivity to this linkage and ensuring that due account is taken of potential implications for humanitarian relief operations is, in my view, another important role of DHA. There is a need to establish clear criteria for humanitarian activities in the context of political and peace-keeping operations. In cooperation with the humanitarian agencies, DHA should foster a dialogue to develop the applicable doctrine as well as a pragmatic examination of the humanitarian "rules of engagement" for such operations.

With the active involvement of the concerned agencies, I see the Department playing a much more active role in sensitizing the political organs of the United Nations to the problems being faced by humanitarian relief efforts on the ground and seeking agreement on ways how these can be resolved. One key area relates to sanctions, which of course must be pursued, but where obstacles to humanitarian action must be avoided as far as possible. Another example is the issue of de-mining, where a system-wide approach has yet to be devised and where the onus of de-mining operations remains unclear despite the hazards posed to populations in countries as distant as Afghanistan, Cambodia and Mozambique. A third is the question of security for humanitarian relief operations and humanitarian access.

In discharging its coordination function, DHA could also play a useful role in identifying gaps in the response of the United Nations system. This must be done especially to ensure that populations in need, such as the internally displaced and minority groups, are adequately addressed. The approach to internal displacement is clearly an area in need of attention and action. As part of my Office's strategy to prevent refugee problems and address them before people are forced to cross borders, UNHCR has assumed a more active role, at the request of the Secretary-General and the Governments concerned, for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons in a number of countries, notably in Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and the former Yugoslavia.

We have also launched an innovative operation in Somalia from across the border in Kenya so that people are not forced to leave their country solely for lack of international assistance. When refugees return to areas where there are internally displaced persons, UNHCR has sought to assist both groups, in an effort to stabilize communities and promote early durable solutions. It must be clear, however, that UNHCR cannot and does not wish to assume responsibility with respect to the world's entire population of displaced persons. Such a global role would clearly go beyond the mandate and capacity of my Office. We must be given the discretionary judgement to decide whether we assume a primary or secondary role with respect to the internally displaced. If the displaced are of a "refugee-like" character, UNHCR would have to assume primary responsibility. In other situations, my Office could be part of an overall UN effort.

Cooperation is also essential in the process of needs assessment and the preparation and follow-up of consolidated appeals. We are all painfully aware of the spiralling humanitarian needs all over the world. We are equally conscious of the growing pressures on donor Governments at home and abroad to respond to our many appeals for funding. We have therefore welcomed joint assessment missions and preparations of consolidated appeals under the auspices of the DHA.

I am concerned, however, at the multiplication of appeals. We may be losing touch with the reality of scarce resources. There is a need for greater prioritization of humanitarian programmes, for a more careful and critical assessment of needs and budgets, and for the development of a global consolidated resource strategy incorporating individual consolidated appeals. Clearly, this goes beyond the capacity of any single agency. The time has come for a major dialogue on the hard choices that will have to be made in the face of finite humanitarian resources and almost infinite humanitarian demands. DHA has a central role to play in nurturing such a dialogue, alerting the international community to unmet needs and consulting with agencies when priority-setting becomes necessary. This implies the capacity to track closely the response to the multiplicity of appeals as well as to identify untapped resources and capacities.

Ever-increasing challenges, limited resources and our overstretched capacity have in this context made more crucial than ever the role of NGOs in continuing to fill the many gaps left by United Nations relief efforts. Their real and potential contributions must not only be recognized but energetically pursued. Encouraged by my Executive Committee, I am determined to reinforce UNHCR's partnership with NGOs in refugee protection and assistance and help develop the capacity of local NGOs. We have therefore embarked on a series of regional NGO-UNHCR workshops which will culminate in a global NGO/UNHCR conference called Partnership in Action - PARinAC - which will take place in Oslo, Norway in December of this year. We look forward to the active participation of DHA and our sister United Nations agencies in this process.

Repatriation operations in Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Mozambique have brought home the fact that, for voluntary repatriation to be a truly lasting solution, it must be accompanied by efforts to create a more stable environment. Proper conditions for reintegration must be created that benefit not only returnees but also the local population. Returnees going back to a fragile economic base may be an additional element in exacerbating that fragility. If the process of political reconciliation in the countries to which refugees return is to be sustained, and if the humanitarian emergency response is to be more than just a temporary palliative, they obviously need to be accompanied by comprehensive development programmes with a human dimension and a short - as well as long-term impact. The Secretary-General's Agenda for Peace clearly recognizes this fact.

DHA has a role to play in fostering greater inter-agency cooperation and coordination to allow relief and development agencies to dovetail their efforts. Variations in planning time-frames, needs assessment and programming practices need to be reviewed to contribute to harmonizing approaches and strengthening impact. More importantly, the contribution of development-oriented non-governmental organizations may already go a long way in bridging this perceived gap. In this sense, capacity-building efforts aimed at local NGOs may help to compensate for limited capacity on the ground.

Drawing on the valuable lessons of CIREFCA and the Quick Impact Projects - QIPs - pioneered in Nicaragua, UNHCR, UNDP and a range of agencies have implemented such projects in Cambodia, to meet the immediate needs for potable water and basic infrastructure of returnee communities. In Somalia, QIPs are also being used to anchor populations in potential returnee communities, creating an incentive to return and to remain. In Mozambique, where UNHCR is about to launch the largest organized repatriation movement ever attempted in Africa, QIPs can make a vital contribution to restoring a grid of basic services - potable water, primary health, basic infrastructure - and avoiding further internal displacement.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

While the challenges posed by today's world occasionally appear insurmountable, I believe that the past is as rich in lessons as the future is full of opportunities. Unless we are able to learn from our successes and failures, no amount of discussion will remedy the basic challenge before us. As never before, the United Nations is being called upon to assume a central role in the avoidance and resolution of conflicts, in redressing man's inhumanity to man and in contributing to a brighter future for all. We all recognize the need for a substantial transformation in the way the United Nations approaches the myriad challenges I have highlighted here today. UNHCR continues to stand ready to contribute to enhancing the United Nations' response to complex humanitarian operations and pledges its support to the Secretary-General and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs in this crucial endeavour.