Strengthening UN Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL - 2013 SUBSTANTIVE SESSION, GENEVA
Statement by Ms Alison Chartres, Counsellor, Australian Mission to the United Nations
The scale and complexity of crises to which the international humanitarian system must respond are immense. To be effective in the face of these challenges, the system must be inclusive and coordinated, and reduce vulnerabilities and risks.
Member States have a shared responsibility to ensure that humanitarian assistance is as effective as possible. We are therefore deeply disturbed that humanitarian organizations are, in an increasing number of crises, being arbitrarily denied access to populations in need. Delayed, impeded or denied access causes unnecessary death, avoidable disease, and needless suffering.
Humanitarian assistance is also being hindered by deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on humanitarian workers and medical personnel. In the current crisis in Syria, twenty Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff have been killed.
International humanitarian law obliges all parties to a conflict to protect civilian populations; and extends a range of protections to relief and medical personnel. Deliberately targeting civilians and relief personnel is not only morally abhorrent; it is a blatant violation of these laws.
As a crisis that is taking a profound and disproportionate toll on civilians, Australia is deeply concerned by the escalating conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.
The impact of the crisis is catastrophic, and the scale of need it has wrought is reflected in the largest UN humanitarian appeal in history.
Syria's basic services have been severely disrupted. At least 35% of public hospitals are out of service and in some governorates up to 70% of the health workforce have fled. Water shortages have reached unprecedented levels in eastern governorates. By recent estimates, 22% of the country's 22,000 schools been destroyed or occupied – jeopardising the education of 2.5 million children and threatening their safety.
The government in Damascus has systematically used bureaucratic hurdles to deny, delay and impede access for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance – particularly, alarmingly, medical supplies.
Both sides of the conflict need to abide by international humanitarian principles and practice, including by facilitating access for humanitarians and the international community needs to take the initiative to guarantee this.
Australia also recognises the destabilising effect and humanitarian impact the crisis is having on neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan, as they continue to host and protect millions of refugees.
We commend the courageous work of humanitarian agencies on the ground in Syria and the region.
Within crises such as those in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, traditional forms of humanitarian assistance are rarely adequate if the safety and security of beneficiaries is not protected. Too often, there may be food and shelter, but no safe haven from violence, exploitation and abuse.
We strongly encourage humanitarian agencies and Member States to increase investments in preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, and the protection of the most vulnerable – including people with disabilities – in crisis situations.
The crisis in the Sahel continues to illustrate the need for multifaceted humanitarian responses. Humanitarian and development actors must work together to address the overlapping challenges of conflict, displacement and food insecurity.
Humanitarian assistance that is underpinned by longer-term efforts to build the resilience of communities and legitimate institutions is essential to end recurrent cycles of poverty, vulnerability and conflict.
Australia commends Under-Secretary-General Amos' strong leadership of the Transformative Agenda for more effective humanitarian action, and we look forward to its accelerated implementation.
As part of the Agenda, we particularly welcome the IASC's Five Commitments to Accountability to Affected Populations. Affected populations must have a genuine say in how humanitarian assistance is delivered and managed.
OCHA's efforts to broaden and deepen national, regional and international partnerships for humanitarian action are also vital.
We would, however, highlight the need for further support from the humanitarian system to better capture accurate and accessible disaster risk information including the reporting of sex, age and disability disaggregated data. This data is essential if programs are to reduce risk and mitigate disaster impacts, and be equally effective for women, men, girls and boys.
Current crises are testing the humanitarian system to the very limits of its capacity. The international community needs an inclusive humanitarian system that is fit for purpose and adaptable. Australia looks forward to the World Humanitarian Summit as an opportunity to set an agenda for the system to meet future challenges.
But we must also take action now. Millions of the world's most vulnerable people are relying on all of us.