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Report of the Secretary-General
1. The present report responds to the requests contained in General Assembly resolutions 63/139, 61/220 and Economic and Social Council resolution 2008/36. The period covered by the report is June 2008 to May 2009.
B. Complex emergencies
14. The sustained closure of Gaza for all but the most essential commodities since June 2007 has increased the vulnerability levels of its 1.4 million inhabitants. Israeli military operations from December 2008 to January 2009 exacerbated an already severe humanitarian situation. According to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health, 1,440 Palestinians were killed and 5,380 were injured during the military campaign. Despite clear markings, hospitals, ambulances, United Nations and other civilian facilities were hit, 9 United Nations and associated personnel were killed and 11 were injured. The hostilities caused the destruction of infrastructure and essential services, resulting in severe shortages of power, water, food, shelter and medical services. At the same time, the persistent and indiscriminate launching of rocket fire into southern Israel spread fear among the civilian population and caused a number of casualties. Despite a fragile, and still unofficial, ceasefire, restrictions continue to hamper the entry of relief items and humanitarian staff into Gaza. I, together with the Emergency Relief Coordinator, have stressed the urgent need for free and sustained movement of humanitarian personnel and supplies, and have appealed to warring parties to respect the impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian assistance. However, the provision of humanitarian assistance remains below what is urgently required, and basic goods necessary for reconstruction and infrastructure rehabilitation remain banned.
III. Humanitarian assistance: current challenges
A. Respecting and implementing guiding principles of humanitarian assistance at the operational level: assisting affected populations
Safety and security of humanitarian personnel
26. In 2008, the Department for Safety and Security of the Secretariat (UNDSS) reported a 36 per cent increase in deaths of United Nations — including humanitarian — personnel caused by malicious acts. Of the 25 reported deaths in 2008, 20 occurred in Africa (including 17 in Algeria, 1 each in Chad, Kenya and Ethiopia), 1 in Pakistan and 4 in the Middle East (1 in Lebanon and 3 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory). The trend continued of locally recruited personnel being the most vulnerable, accounting for the majority of casualties, arrests, detentions and harassments. Out of the total number of 25 deaths, 21 involved locally recruited staff members. During 2008, the Department also reported 63 deaths of international and national staff of NGOs resulting from malicious acts, including: 18 in Somalia, 17 in Afghanistan, 14 in the Sudan, 6 in Pakistan, 4 in Chad and 1 each in Burundi, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
IV. Progress in the coordination of humanitarian assistance
C. Update on White Helmets
66. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and the White Helmets have signed a memorandum of understanding in 1995 providing the basis for UNV support to the White Helmets, including the management of the White Helmets contributions account. To date the only donor to this account has been the Argentine Government. UNV has provided administrative support to the White Helmets humanitarian response activities in Cuba, Haiti, Ukraine and the occupied Palestinian territories. A number of White Helmets were trained and deployed through the UNDAC mechanism to support the South Asia tsunami response and floods responses in Argentina, the Plurinational State of Bolivia and Honduras in 2006-2007.
67. A priority for the United Nations humanitarian system remains the provision of capacity support, whenever possible, to local, national and regional humanitarian response capacities. With enhanced coordination with the international humanitarian system, the White Helmets may provide an interesting model for regional and local volunteer organizations responding to disasters. The White Helmets initiative should explore mechanisms to share best practices with other regional organizations in disaster-prone areas. In this regard, it will be equally important to draw on the expertise of relevant volunteer-based organizations and to support efforts for strengthening volunteer-based organizations worldwide.
V. Conclusions and recommendations
68. On the basis of the above, Member States are encouraged to consider the following:
(a) Member States, non-State actors and humanitarian organizations are urged to promote greater respect for, and adherence to, the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence;
(b) Safe, timely and unhindered access to vulnerable populations is a prerequisite for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance. States are urged to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to affected communities;
(c) Member States and non-State actors are urged to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, facilities and supplies within their areas of control. In this regard, they are urged to refrain from public statements and incitement that could jeopardize the safety and security of humanitarian workers;
(d) The United Nations system and humanitarian partners are encouraged to strengthen preparedness, with greater emphasis on disaster risk reduction and particularly on strengthening response capacities at the local, national and regional levels, including national civil society organizations. In this regard, strengthened information management and coordination with development actors and other local, national and regional partners are critical to identify future needs and help humanitarian actors expand their knowledge base;
(e) Member States are called upon to maintain a diversity of humanitarian funding channels, and to provide consistent and predictable support to these channels to meet existing and growing humanitarian needs. This includes the provision of early and multi-year commitments to humanitarian pooled funds (Central Emergency Response Fund, common humanitarian funds, emergency response funds) as well as complementary support to humanitarian agencies’ individual emergency reserves and other traditional sources of funding for humanitarian programmes;
(f) Member States are urged to strengthen efforts to address sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, including by preventing, investigating and prosecuting such violence in humanitarian emergencies, and to play their part in the joint development of comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence;
(g) The White Helmets initiative is encouraged to enhance coordination with the international humanitarian system and explore mechanisms to share best practices on disaster response and preparedness with other regional organizations in disaster-prone areas.