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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 16 July 1980

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 16 July 1980

16 July 1980

Mr. President,

First of all, I wish to thank you for giving me the opportunity of addressing this distinguished body. As you know, the annual report on the activities of my Office is debated in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. It has become customary for the Economic and Social Council to transmit this report directly to the General Assembly, and I understand that practice will also be followed this year. My purpose this morning is to provide the Council with an up-to-date account of our humanitarian efforts in two countries, Djibouti and Somalia, pursuant to relevant resolutions of the Council.

I was gratified to note that in April of this year, ECOSOC, at its first regular session of 1980 in New York, adopted by consensus four resolutions on refugees and displaced persons in the Horn of Africa and the Sudan. Such a move testifies to an increasingly universal recognition of the serious humanitarian problems in that part of the world, and acts as a powerful incentive towards improvement of the response to needs, by the various United Nations agencies and programmes, and more generally by the international community. Such an increased response will contribute to relieving human suffering and to alleviating the burden placed, on the four governments concerned, by the gravity and magnitude of the problems which exist.

Mr. President, two of the four resolutions specifically request the High Commissioner to report to this Council at its present regular UNHCR activities in Somalia date back to the early part of 1978 when two high-level technical missions visited areas where refugees were concentrated and, in consultation with the Somali authorities, formulated an assistance programme estimated at some US $ 5,000,000 to cover the basic requirements of the some 150,000 persons who were then living in camps. This programme formed a component of the overall appeal to which I have just referred, launched by my Office in 1978 for humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa.

Throughout 1979 several upward adjustments of the programme had to be made as a result of the ever-increasing number of new arrivals; in view of the growing size of the problem and the consequent necessity for large-scale assistance, the Government of Somalia declared a state of emergency.

In order to reassess the situation, a multi-disciplinary UN mission initiated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations was arranged in December 1979. On the basis of an estimated average of 640,000 refugees in camps foreseen for 1980, the mission concluded that in addition to over 135,000 metric tons of food commodities, various assistance items in an amount of US$ 40.7 million would also be required this year. As a result following the Secretary-General's decision to appoint the High Commissioner as Co-ordinator of the United Nations humanitarian assistance in Somalia. I launched an appeal on 4 March asking Governments and potential donors for early contributions, in cash or kind, to permit UNHCR to respond adequately to the immediate survival needs of the refugees.

To date, a total of over US$ 22 million has been contributed, by twelve governments, by the European Economic Community, and seven non-governmental organizations. Efforts to secure additional funds continue unabated. A great deal of support, other than financial, has also been enlisted from numerous quarters.

Under the overall co-ordination of UNHCR, valuable co-operation has been provided in the fields of food, health, education and water supply by the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as well as by other inter-governmental organizations. Furthermore, technical expertise in a wide range of fields has been made available by a number of governmental and voluntary agencies. A total of 125 experts, stationed in various provinces, were attached to the programme by June 1980.

In recent months, UNHCR itself has considerably strengthened its presence in Somalia: 10 international and 30 local staff members, assisted by 25 volunteers, are now stationed in the country either in Mogadishu or in the three sub-offices recently opened in the regions of Gedo, Hiran and the Northwest.

For the purposes of proper co-ordination of international aid, my Office has arranged meetings both in Geneva and Mogadishu with the United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations concerned. At the national level, the Governmental agency, the National Refugee Commissioner's Office, with which UNHCR acts in close co-operation, has been substantially reinforced to carry out, both centrally and locally, the multiple tasks resulting from the considerably increased programme. In addition, as a result of a special appeal for Somalia by the League of Red Cross Societies, the Somali Red Crescent Society is operating a relief programme including first aid personnel in the transit camps in the border areas.

Turning to assistance as such, the first half of the year has been mainly devoted to the provision of immediate relief such as food, health care and medicines, tents, blankets, clothing and other domestic items, as well as local transport. Attention has been given also to the setting up of communal facilities, expanding self-help activities and establishing water supply system. May I elaborate on these points.

With regard to food, for which WFP acted as the main co-ordinator, it is gratifying to report that recent food pledges by donors have gone a long way to improving the previously alarming prospects for the third and fourth quarters of the year; as a result, the food deficit initially foreseen for 1980 has now been considerably reduced.

As far as health is concerned, in addition to increased local medical staff made available by the Government, some 60 international medical personnel, provided by governmental and voluntary agencies, are now working in the camps under UNHCR auspices. Experts have been recruited by UNHCR for the development of a co-ordinated health programme in the camps. Close co-operation was established in this field with the refugee health unit under the Ministry of Health, the WHO Refugee Health Co-ordinator and UNICEF. In addition to a number of bilateral contributions, some US$ 1.6 million were obligated by UNHCR for medical units, equipment and medicines.

Over the first months of the year, progress was made in providing shelter and in meeting various domestic needs. A number of charter flights were arranged carrying tents, blankets, and clothing purchased by UNHCR or donated by voluntary agencies. Tarpaulins, plastic sheets, kitchen utensils, were further procured on international or local markets. For all these items, an amount of US$ 7.7 million has so far been committed, including charter costs.

For local transport of relief supplies, the total fleet of new vehicles in 1980 is 92 trucks and 70 trailers, part of which was purchased by UNHCR. Procurement has been undertaken to cover other transport needs such as water tankers, four-wheel-drive vehicles and ambulances. Projects have been initiated for improvement of access roads. Under these transportation items, total UNHCR obligations amount to US$ 5 million.

During recent months, impetus has been given for the construction of basic communal facilities in the camps, with priority for food stores and medical facilities. The value of this programme new under implementation, is US$ 800,000, and will have to be substantially increased.

In co-operation with UNICEF, projects have been established in the fields of community development and self-help, such as day-care centres in the camps, and small-scale agricultural activities. Plans are being set up to develop handicrafts and engage the refugees in productive skills. US$ 700,000 have so far been allocated for these purposes.

A major concern since the beginning of the operations in Somalia has been the improvement of water supply. A general water supply programme covering all existing camps was recently agreed to by the Government, UNHCR and UNICEF. With technical co-ordination by the UNICEF, UNHCR is providing funds up to US$ 4.8 million for this programme. Additionally, for immediate needs, a number of regional projects implemented by local and voluntary agencies have been established so the total obligations for the improvement of water supply amount to US 7.3 million.

Finally, attention is being given to promotion of primary education, scholarship programmes and various forms of technical assistance. UNHCR obligations so far under these items amount to US$ 1,780,000.

Regarding the funding requirements for the programme in Somalia, the contributions received toward the target of US$ 40.7 million slightly exceed US$ 22 million. This is certainly a generous response. However, the shortfall is still considerable and I do hope that additional support will be forthcoming without delay. My Office is indeed dependant on the goodwill and generosity of the international community, to carry out all its programmes.

Mr. President, I would now like to review the situation in Djibouti, where refugees have continued to arrive during recent months. At the same of the first major influx in 1977, UNHCR established a Branch Office in Djibouti. In the framework of my appeal for funds for the Horn of Africa in April 1978, an amount of US$ 2 million was earmarked for Djibouti, mainly to finance relief measures and to establish some essential infrastructure.

By the end of June 1980, the refugee population in the country was believed to have grown to some 40,000 persons, half of whom had spontaneously - although inadequately - settled in Djibouti town where they live in substandard conditions and where there are problems of health and sanitation, food, employment, and education. UNHCR has appealed for education and resettlement opportunities in view of the scarcity of possibilities for the refugees to integrate locally. In 1979, a few students were able to study in Djibouti, while 280 were placed in Egypt.

In the two main refugee concentration areas outside the capital, Dikhil and Ail Sabieh, the refugees, grouped in camps, almost outnumber of local population and their presence somewhat disrupted public services while imposing a heavy strain on health facilities, water supplies and local transport. Moreover, the camps have imposed a heavy burden on an already overtaxed administration.

Due to the prevailing conditions, UNHCR assistance has consisted largely of relief measures, but has also included improvements in health services, as well as housing and education facilities. Purchases of food have been made to supplement the basic requirements provided by WFP. A number of items, including food, tents and blankets have been made available by voluntary agencies. substantial progress has further been recorded in the construction of traditional dwellings at Ail Sabieh and Dikhil, as well as in the erection of a transit/training centre, intended to improve the chances of resettlement of some 500 young urban refugees.

Mr. President, Djibouti, which has generously opened its doors to large numbers of refugees, is a country lacking in natural resources and one-third of whose population is now reported to be suffering from drought. Useful and timely though UNHCR's assistance to Djibouti may have been, a review appeared necessary in view of the increasing numbers and also to match the needs more adequately. The United Nations inter-agency mission to Djibouti, which the Secretary-General was requested to send under the ECOSOC resolution I mentioned earlier, has now taken place, from 5-12 June, with UNHCR participation. The mission report is about to be issued. Meanwhile, on the basis of established needs, I am envisaging an increase in the size of our programme for Djibouti in 1980, and devising an adequate programme for 1981. The adjustments would apply to such areas as food, health, housing, education and training, agriculture, transport and storage facilities. Special attention will also be given to water supply and technical assistance in various fields. The Djibouti authorities agree that longer-term arrangements be made for refugees to settle in the country, pending any future voluntary repatriation. As soon as the increased programme can be launched, UNHCR will give all due attention to the overall co-ordination, so that the maximum benefit can be derived from the support contributed by other agencies of the United Nations system and by all voluntary agencies concerned, in full co-operation with the authorities.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to stress again how grateful I am for this opportunity of addressing the Council on such important tasks entrusted to my Office. In humanitarian terms, the plight of the uprooted persons in the countries reviewed is considerable, and rightly deserves the close attention of and an urgent response from the international community as a whole. UNHCR, which has to face so many - sometimes massive - human tragedies, will continue to mobilize all forms of support for these particular situations and will make every effort, in co-operation with the governments concerned, to provide assistance to those who so badly need our help. The understanding which ECOSOC has consistently shown for the activities of my Office strengthens my action, and is also a source of great encouragement.

Thank you, Mr. President.