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To ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment: Panel Discussion on Reaching the Vulnerable


New York - 16 July 2002

Mr. Chairman, Fellow Panellists, Distinguished Delegates:

Ten years after the fact, it is clear that the General Assembly's adoption of Resolution 46/182 was a watershed event in the history of humanitarian assistance.

Up to that point, UNICEF and others in the UN System had dealt with humanitarian crises on a largely ad hoc basis. Emergency programmes were conceived and implemented separately from multi-year development programmes in the same country.

Staffs were typically made up of "development people" and "emergencies people." Even in countries where there was overlap between target populations of emergency and development programmes, it was clear that there was a gap separating humanitarian assistance from development.

What makes Resolution 46/182 so unique is its recognition of the linkages between humanitarian emergencies, rehabilitation and development - and its acknowledgement that humanitarian assistance and development can in fact be be two sides of the same coin.

In the last 10 years, we have also seen profound changes in the nature of humanitarian engagement in response to the nature of the emergencies themselves, which have always been complex, but today are more complex than ever.

Most conflicts are raging within States, yet their effects reverberate across borders. Many are fueled by political leaders and businessmen jockeying for power and resources, who, for example, sustain ~conflict by trafficking in diamonds or small arms.

In this new landscape in which we are operating as humanitarian actors, egregious violations of child rights are occurring on scale that was inconceivable as little as a decade ago. In World War I, 90 per cent of the casualties were combatants. Today 90 per cent of casualties are civilians, the vast majority of them children and women.

The rapid spread of HIV/AIDS, combined with the effects of armed conflict, pose the most serious threat to human survival that the world has ever known. Indeed, war and HIV/AIDS reinforce each other, spreading death, suffering and social upheaval. As Secretary-General Kofi Annan has observed, "this cocktail of disasters is a sure recipe for more conflict. And conflict, in turn, provides fertile ground for further infections."

Within this context, natural disasters - floods, earthquakes, storms and drought - are affecting ever larger numbers of people because the effects of poverty and underdevelopment, including armed conflict and HIV/AIDS, make them even more vulnerable.

All of this has profoundly affected the way humanitarian actors operate in the field. For UNICEF and our partners in the UN and civil society, it has become not only more difficult to reach the most vulnerable children with immunisation, education, and special protection - it is also more dangerous for humanitarian staff, who are themselves targets.

This is why UNICEF and our partners in humanitarian work have taken on a series of overarching issues that are crucial to addressing the effects of conflict, HIV/AIDS and natural disasters.

These include working to minimise the effects of antipersonnel landmines on civilians, especially children, who are the most vulnerable;

It includes ending impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including the exploitation and abuse of children in war, which is a major objective of the International Criminal Court;

It includes making major improvements in reaching and assisting the 24 million people who are internally displaced. And it includes ensuring the health and development of the most vulnerable children through such measures as immunisation, which has already brought polio to the brink of eradication, and education, which is a vital tool in helping children recover from the effects of humanitarian disasters.

The all-but-universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has helped usher in a host of improved legal standards and treaties, including the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Ottawa prohitions of landmines.

Many will argue that these standards are more often breached than respected. But they have set a bench mark for what we - and children themselves - have a right to expect from warring parties all over the world. And we are determined to establish them as enduring principles of behavior toward children.

Mr. Chairman, in the 10 years since the General Assembly created the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and Consolidated Appeal Process to rationalise and co-ordinate international humanitarian action, the coordination of humanitarian action has improved continuously. The Consolidated Appeal, for example, involves a strategy development process that identifies linkages between sectors and actors and presents a framework for required funding.

The coordination mechanisms established as a result of Resolution 46/182 have greatly benefited the cause of improved humanitarian assistance. And the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, its Working Group and subsidiary bodies have given us a forum in which UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and NGOs come together regularly to discuss the issues that challenge all humanitarian actors and develop shared positions.

For UNICEF, one of the major advantages of the mechanisms established by Resolution 46/182 is that they make it easier to place children's issues on the agenda of the wider humanitarian community. It is mechanisms such as the IASC that allow us to ensure that all humanitarian actors are incorporating children's issues into their work, that children are seen as "everybody's business."

Issues such as education and psychosocial support, for example, have been mainstreamed into humanitarian action partly as a result of discussions and actions taken under the auspices of such coordination mechanisms.

Gender and humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians are other areas where IASC members have worked together to develop policies, standards and training material and have been able to make a real difference on the ground.

We have seen similar benefits at the country level. The Humanitarian Coordinator System and the Consolidated Appeal Process have allowed us to engage more systematically and consistently with all of our humanitarian partners on children's issues. One example is the support UNICEF was able to generate for the establishment of child-friendly spaces in refugee camps in Angola, Guinea, and Liberia.

Resolution 46/182 has also given UNICEF the flexibility needed to provide basic services to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children, whether through large-scale measles and Vitamin A campaigns in Burundi and Afghanistan, or through the demobilisation and reintegration of hundreds of child soldiers in South Sudan.

Mr. Chairman, we have made considerable headway in the drive to improve and streamline humanitarian coordination. Now we need to use the momentum we have built over the last decade to re-focus our efforts not only on coordination, which is but a means to an end, but on the end itself - the protection and care of children and all the countless others whose special vulnerability is the defining factor of our work.

Thank you.



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