Humanitarian and disaster relief assistance

Norwegian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Gry Larsen, presenting Norway's statement on humanitarian and emergency assistance at the General Assembly. Photo: Norway's UN Mission/Emma Kwesiga Lydersen

Norwegian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Gry Larsen, presenting Norway's statement on humanitarian and emergency assistance at the General Assembly. Photo: Norway's UN Mission/Emma Kwesiga Lydersen

On Monday 7 December, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Gry Larsen, presented Norway’s statement to the General Assembly on Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance. The following is a transcript of the speech.

Mr President, Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,

Why are humanitarian workers getting killed – when all they want to do is to help?

Why are they denied access to people in desperate need – when all they want to do is relieve suffering?

And why are we, the international community and national governments, unable or unwilling to invest in disaster preparedness and prevention – when we know that such investment will save both lives and money?

Mr. President,

The international humanitarian system is under intense and growing pressure, and the questions I introduced all indicate what the problems are.

And Mr. President,

I believe the United Nations is – and will remain – indispensable to solve all three sets of humanitarian challenges.

Natural hazards are perhaps fewer in number but their severity and impact have dramatically increased. In 2008 the number of deaths caused by natural disasters was three times the average for the period 2000–2007.

Complex emergencies have escalated over the last years with severe impacts on people’s lives and wellbeing. These impacts are often coupled with the effects of natural hazards and global challenges, such as the food, fuel and financial crises.

And we have only seen the beginning.

We, the representatives of the international humanitarian community, have to ask ourselves:

Do the people affected by the increased severity of natural disasters and escalating conflicts experience that humanitarian assistance is more adequate, timely and efficient? I am not sure that they do.

There are several reasons for this. I would like to focus on three specific areas of concern:

Lack of humanitarian space and lack of access for humanitarian assistance

Lack of protection of civilians and increased occurrence of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflicts

Lack of early recovery and disaster preparedness

Mr President,

Time and again we witness that the humanitarian space is being limited and not respected. We still see that lack of safe, unimpeded and timely access to many of the victims continues to be one of the key obstacles to effective protection of civilians. All parties concerned, including non-state actors and neighbouring states, must cooperate in ensuring access to civilian populations and in protecting aid workers in armed conflict.

Norway will continue to promote respect for fundamental humanitarian principles and a clear division of roles between humanitarian organisations and military forces. Humanitarian space must be understood and protected in all emergencies.

The core principles of International Humanitarian Law are as valid as ever. Yet, the complexity of modern armed conflicts demands renewed reflection on the interpretation and implementation of these principles in order to ensure adequate protection for civilians. Accountability is essential.

Warfare conducted in violation of IHL should carry a strong political stigma and perpetrators should be brought to justice.

The recently-published study – Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations – uncovers many of the existing gaps and provides clear recommendations.

Overall, it is evident that mandates to protect civilians have yet to be matched by political resolve and resources, or by doctrine and clear operational guidance for peacekeeping personnel.

Norway welcomes the study and intends to make sure that it does not end up on a shelf, but that it is used as a tool for improvement.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable in humanitarian crises. Nowhere in the world is this more obvious today than in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The widespread and systematic sexual violence in the DRC has devastating consequences, not only for each and every victim, but for future peace and reconciliation in the country.

Internationally, sexual violence is considered to be a savage weapon of war; in fact a war crime and a threat to international peace. But sexual violence is not an inevitable feature of war.

It can be stopped if we take it seriously enough. The incredible truth is that the world has too often looked away.

Norway welcomes the increased coordination in the field of women, peace and security – and we look forward to the Secretary General’s imminent appointment of a Special Representative to address sexual violence.

We call upon all relevant UN and humanitarian organisations to strengthen capacity, including surge capacity, for supporting victims, to find effective means of combating impunity, and to establish more effective preventive measures.

Mr President,

Today, the international humanitarian system is better coordinated and more robust than ever. But early recovery following natural disasters is still lagging behind on the reform agenda and is in urgent need of renewed attention. With an increasing number of natural disasters, the link between reconstruction and prevention needs to be strengthened.

The establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund gave the UN a rapid response capacity. Now the humanitarian community must place prevention and preparedness much higher on the reform agenda. We all know that it is less expensive to anticipate and prevent than to react and repair.

Mr President,

We need a robust international humanitarian system, supported by all member countries. We need a genuine global alliance for humanitarian principles and values. We all share responsibility and we all share the same world.

For these reasons, Norway continues to be a predictable supporter of the United Nation’s humanitarian efforts. Today I will sign a four year framework agreement with OCHA, providing a total of more than 40 million dollars – in un-earmarked funding.

And later this week, we will pledge 325 million Norwegian Kroner to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), more than 58 million US dollars. An increase of 10 percent over this year.

Finally Mr. President,

Before I close, let me underscore that we should not be thought of as either donors or recipients.

As the Secretary-General has underlined: States that have turned to their friends in past disasters are today in a position to offer help and to provide international aid in its many forms.

Such a broadening of substantive support for relief efforts is crucial if the world is to respond to the growing humanitarian needs. It is my hope and vision that we will be able to move forward together in a renewed partnership, with the strong and sound leadership of the UN.

Thank you, Mr President.

Source: Norway Mission to the UN

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