Interventions: Statements of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly

Agenda item 71:

Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian
and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations,
including special economic assistance

New York, 19 November 2007

Mr. President,

At the very outset, I wish to convey sincere condolences to the people and government of Bangladesh in the wake of the terrible cyclone that left thousands dead and millions with properties and means of livelihood in ruins. Appreciation goes to all those who have immediately responded to the humanitarian emergency.

The utter destruction we have just seen in Bangladesh illustrates the many devastating effects of natural and man-made disasters that peoples all over the world are confronted with year after year. Men and women working for international, national and local humanitarian organizations, many of which are faith-based, risk their lives and future to aid the victims of such catastrophes. It is for the safety of these humanitarian workers and for the welfare of the suffering people they assist that we must work for a truly effective, coordinated, and humane disaster response system.

Last year, the high rate of natural disasters around the world was sadly accompanied by many and extremely costly man-made ones. Armed conflicts have devastated societies in many places, taken lives, ruined economies, set back development and frustrated efforts to restore peace. Given the terrible consequences of armed conflicts, we must once again recall that in the most unfortunate case of war, all parties involved must comply fully with the rules and principles of international law and international humanitarian law related to the protection of humanitarian personnel, such as allowing full unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to all people in need of assistance. Likewise, they are under obligation to guarantee civilians and all victims of armed conflicts safe and unhampered access to humanitarian aid.

Mr President,

Member States have increasingly focused on the need to prevent and reduce the risks associated with disasters. The adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action demonstrated the commitment by countries to place preparedness and prevention on par with response and recovery. This policy is particularly relevant at the national and local level. By increasing the knowledge and capacity of local actors to respond effectively to emergency situations, countries can reduce the long-term cost and consequences of a disaster. Local civic and faith-based organizations are highly effective in this regard, and thus must be fully engaged, supported and, when necessary, duly protected.
The United Nations’ position within the international community puts it in a key position to coordinate humanitarian response to disasters. For this response to be effective, this Organization needs the full cooperation of the States directly concerned, especially in ensuring that the latter fully comply with their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law, and that they fulfill their responsibility to protect their own people.

Moreover, as humanitarian agencies grow in number and variety, the United Nations could enhance collaboration among them and harness their complementary capacities, while respecting their differences and the specific aims and principles of each organization. We note with interest the work done by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in this regard.

Long-term and sustainable post-disaster recovery continues to be a challenge and a necessity. While individual governments are responsible for developing long-term recovery strategies, collaboration with local agencies is important, in particular with those which have acquired concrete knowledge of the situation and have long-term deployment of resources in the region. This could cushion the unintended harmful effects, especially on the more vulnerable sectors of society, of the transition from emergency humanitarian assistance to the recovery phase.

Finally, long-term recovery requires the continued interest and support of the international community. An outpouring of goodwill and international solidarity most often follow live reports and images of humanitarian disasters, but as attention and resources move to other priorities, it quickly weakens or even disappears. This could be very costly, especially in post-conflict situations in which the probability of a relapse to violence is very high, or in places where a truly catastrophic natural disaster wiped out the economic base of entire communities. A steady commitment is necessary if sustainable and long-term recovery system of peoples and regions affected is to be achieved. We therefore welcome initiatives to highlight the often forgotten humanitarian situations and underfunded humanitarian efforts throughout the world.

Thank you, Mr President.


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