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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), at the Launch of the Global Appeal for 1999, Geneva, 18 December 1998

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), at the Launch of the Global Appeal for 1999, Geneva, 18 December 1998

18 December 1998

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, it is with great satisfaction that I introduce the UNHCR 1999 Global Appeal Programme Overview. It is a blueprint of the activities my Office has identified and the funding it expects in order to protect and seek solutions for refugees and other displaced people in 1999.

However, I also present the 1999 Global Appeal with great concern. How much of it remains a blueprint or becomes a reality depends on the decisions of most of you here today. We have published this comprehensive document before the new year to provide an early picture of UNHCR's activities, and - I hope - to facilitate your early support.

In the next year my Office will confront complex challenges as we carry out our mandate. Many problems we addressed in 1998 are ongoing, or have even deteriorated further. Conflicts continue or have re-ignited in regions such as West Africa, Central Africa, and Kosovo. Renewed conflicts have often triggered fresh displacement. Fragile peace agreements reached in some conflicts have led to equally fragile conditions for return.

Immediate humanitarian assistance is necessary in many situations to which return is taking place. Returnees to areas of ongoing - and post-conflict situations are often greeted by destroyed villages and few prospects for improving their lives upon return. They require urgent assistance to facilitate their repatriation and to ensure that, once back home, conditions do not force them to flee again.

Our activities on behalf of returnees in these situations require careful analysis. To ensure sustainable repatriation, we must address reintegration, particularly in the adverse conditions to which many are returning. As we increasingly face such crises, I have encouraged international debate on the "gap" between emergency assistance and development. I will start the new year by discussing this issue in a roundtable with key experts to be held in January at the Brookings Institution with the cooperation of the World Bank.

In addition, crises around the world demand us to continue - if not strengthen - efforts to reinforce the notion of asylum, in on-going dialogues with governments as well as through other activities.

The context in which we will have to face these challenges is changing and being shaped by three principal factors: a fast-moving geopolitical environment; a world in which communication is increasingly becoming a significant tool to be used, and declining resources.

My Office is committed to meet these challenges, while pushing ahead with reform of the organization initiated two years ago. In addition, UNHCR will continue efforts to streamline operations to meet progressive reductions in the overall budget. Reform and streamlining continue right on track with the announcement I made earlier this week to the staff that my Office Headquarters operations will be restructured into four main "pillars" or departments. They will cover the key functions of the organization: protection, operations, communication, and resources management. This restructuring will provide for more streamlined and flexible management.

In addition, during the course of 1998, the Executive Committee and my Office have engaged in a series of informal consultations to design more transparent and flexible procedures. I welcome and look forward to continuation of these consultations.

Let me briefly review UNHCR's use of funds for 1998. Reductions in our operational budget this year have required my Office to adjust programmes accordingly. We started the year with minimal funds to be able to pre-finance our operations - what is referred to as the "carry-over". Relatively few contributions were received in the early months of 1998, notably for Special Programmes. Through stringent fiscal control of our operations, my Office has reconciled the sharp difference between our initial stated needs and the actual level of contributions received.

But unfortunately, this exercise has not been harmless. I greatly appreciate the response to new emergencies such as Kosovo, which has been timely and generous. However, other crucial programmes were left underfunded to the detriment of refugees and other displaced people, even in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. My Office has been unable to support all voluntary repatriation needs of refugees to Afghanistan. In that programme, we were forced by lack of funds to cancel or postpone some group returns from Pakistan, and to suspend cash grants to returnees from Iran. In West Africa, urgently needed assistance to Sierra-Leonean refugees was slow in coming. We were not able to initiate special activities for returnee women in Liberia. We were also forced to reduce programmes and faced similar grave difficulties in the Great Lakes region. In Tanzania, for example, we faced serious difficulties in providing refugees with even minimal assistance.

Our financial situation as we start the year will present complications. We have no carry-over funds in the General Programme to rely upon. Instead, we foresee to have a deficit which we will be forced to bridge with the Working Capital and Guarantee Fund. And carry-over funds for Special Programmes will be - at best - minimal.

In brief, we are ending 1998 without having met all identified needs, and initiating programmes in 1999 with even fewer financial resources to rely upon. Our 1999 appeal represents the lowest budget that my Office has presented since 1992. However, our virtual lack of ability to rely on carry-over funds forces us to seek new contributions in 1999 with little if any decrease from the 1998 Appeal. To avoid a complete disruption of activities under these circumstances, contributions - particularly for the Special Programmes - are vitally needed in the first few weeks of 1999.

For 1999, my Office has projected requirements of some 914.8 million US$ to fund the activities presented in the Global Appeal Program Overview. Part of this volume of funding is included in the consolidated appeal presented by OCHA here in Geneva two days ago. UNHCR is fully associated with that exercise, and I welcome the spirit of cooperation and complementarity of this coordinated inter-agency endeavour.

Of the amount the Global Appeal requires, we estimate that some 850 million US$ must be met with fresh contributions. I hope that presenting the 1999 Global Appeal early will encourage predictable and flexible funding. Predictability will allow us to avoid dangerous funding gaps and the interruption of vital activities. Flexibility is essential if we are to address - as UNHCR does - crises situations. With predictable and flexible funding, we can pursue sound planning and an effective response.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I stated in my foreword to the 1999 Global Appeal, my Office will rely on a fresh international spirit of cooperation as we forge ahead to continue providing protection and assistance to over 22 million refugees and other victims of displacement. Using this document as an impetus, let us develop a global strategy to share responsibilities for reducing human suffering.

Thank you.