Prompt and effective action was key to addressing the sweeping impact of armed conflict on children as well as the myriad effects of climate change on the most vulnerable sectors of society, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council continued its humanitarian affairs segment.
Held under the theme Restoring Humanity, Respecting Human Dignity and Leaving No one Behind: Working together to reduce people's humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability, the segment featured two panel discussions focusing on the impact of armed conflict on children and the challenges, risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable.
During the morning panel on Addressing the impact of armed conflict on children strengthening the response to meet children's needs, panellists reviewed the many ways in which conflict ruined young lives, as well as solutions that included slashing the time for delivering humanitarian aid, more respect for international humanitarian law and improved cooperation between humanitarian and development agencies and staff.
Mari Malek, a refugee from the second Sudan civil war, cited her own life story to underscore the importance of schooling, especially for girls. That required cooperation and working together, she said. Children might be regarded as vulnerable and fragile, but they were also aware and living in the present, and their needs must be heard, she added.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that over the past decade, the number of children living amidst conflict had grown by 74 per cent, with millions becoming refugees or internally displaced. She called for zero tolerance of the targeting of children as well as unhindered humanitarian access to conflict zones.
Robert Mardini, Director of Operations for the Near and Middle East regions, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), noting that children made up half the world's refugees, drew attention to the fact that schools and hospitals, under international humanitarian law, could become legitimate targets if taken over by combatants.
Yasmine Sherif, Director, Education Cannot Wait, said that with the average humanitarian appeal lasting seven years, youngsters were losing the right to a quality education. A further challenge was that only 3 to 4 per cent of humanitarian funding went to education, she said.
The afternoon panel on Addressing the challenges, risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable explored the way in which the global humanitarian system could better address the impact of extreme weather and natural disasters, which in 2017 alone left 19 million people newly displaced across the world.
Lisa Goddard, Director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, said humanity had always lived with climate variability, with temperature change. Citing unprecedented rainfall during Kenya's 2015 2016 rainy season, she said officials there had struggled with preparedness, but going forward they could learn from that experience and become more resilient.
Satyendra Prasad, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, said his country and many other Pacific islands were living with great uncertainty and variability in their weather patterns. Governments have to live with this, which is not a very easy thing to do, he said, emphasizing that de risking uncertainty would be a crucial element of preparedness going forward. Political will would also be needed, and countries should be aware of the tools available to them.
Ronald Jackson, Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, shared lessons learned from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which had exposed gaps in preparedness financing. We are balancing the urgent with the important, he said, stressing that Caribbean nations were moving towards a paradigm of smarter investment, better climate change mitigation, reductions in national debt, better leadership and pursuing more appropriate development practices in general.
Mohamed Beavogui, Director General of African Risk Capacity, recalled the 2012 establishment of African Risk Capacity as a means for African nations to pool risks. Currently, efforts were under way to address potential weather events related to excessive rainfall, he said, adding that African Risk Capacity was also launching an outbreaks and epidemics unit. He noted that was not a panacea, but should be considered alongside other social protection systems.
Ibrahim Lumumba Idi Issa, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, discussed the work of the Committee, including an initiative to develop national resilience and capacity. Efforts were under way as well to preserve the Sahel's limited water resources as its rainy season became more unpredictable.
Osnat Lubrani, United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative (Fiji) covering 10 Pacific small island developing States, said her daily work was tied to the humanitarian responses of countries in the region. While international support was used as much as was necessary, responses were becoming better tailored to local contexts. She underlined the importance of reconstruction financing as well as expedited administrative processes needed to use it.
The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 21 June to conclude its humanitarian affairs segment.
Panel Discussion I
In the morning, the Economic and Social Council held a panel discussion on the theme, Addressing the impact of armed conflict on children � strengthening the response to meet children's needs. Moderated by Mark Lowcock, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, it featured the following speakers: Mari Malek, a South Sudanese refugee and founder of Stand for Education; Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Robert Mardini, Director of Operations for the Near and Middle East regions, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Yasmine Sherif, Director, Education Cannot Wait.
Mr. LOWCOCK drew attention to the Secretary General's report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which discussed the way in which children were disproportionately affected by conflict, as well as a report from Save the Children that put the number of children living amid conflict at 350 million, or 1 in 6 children on the planet. Today's panel would discuss the many ways in which conflict ruined children's lives, as well as solutions, as there were reasons for hope and things that could be done in the midst of horror.
Ms. MALEK recounted her life story, in which her childhood in a large middle class family in what is today South Sudan was shattered by the outbreak of the second civil war in Sudan. Her mother, acting from a feminine and nurturing perspective, took the hard decision to sell everything she owned and take her daughters first into Egypt, where she did what she had to do so that they could go to school. After about four and a half years, they moved to the United States as sponsored refugees � I was thrilled, nobody had ever been so excited to be in Newark, New Jersey � where they encountered discrimination as well as ignorance about the situation in Sudan. Her cousins' situation had been worse, as they had to walk three or four months to Kenya, seeing corpses, kidnappings, rape and child trafficking along the way. Her family went on to live in California, where Ms. Malek entered the entertainment industry, which gave her a platform to make a difference as an actor, model and DJ. I knew when I entered that industry that I had to speak on behalf of the voiceless and those left behind, she said. She discussed the work of her foundation, which included the reopening of abandoned schools and the establishment of boarding schools that provided a safe space for girls to learn.
Ms. FORE said that, over the past decade, the number of children living amid conflict had grown by 74 per cent. Millions had become refugees or internally displaced. Their needs were growing, and they faced a myriad of vulnerabilities, as well as becoming frontline targets. In the KasaA� region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violence had forced 850,000 children from their homes, while 200 health centres and 400 schools had come under attack. In Yemen, 1.8 million children faced acute malnutrition and 2 million children were out of school. The global community could not allow such situations to continue, she said, calling for a halt to conflict and zero tolerance of targeting children. She also emphasized the importance of humanitarian access; UNICEF and its partners were ready and able to provide humanitarian support, but all parties to conflict and their allies must grant full and unconditional access.
Mr. MARDINI, noting that half the world's refugees were children, as well as a huge gap between international humanitarian law obligation and the reality on the ground, said education was among the least resilient public services when conflict broke out. Students and teachers were frequent casualties, while schools were being used to house internally displaced persons. Under international humanitarian law, schools were presumed to be civilian sites, but became legitimate targets when occupied by armed forces or armed groups. Unfortunately, the list of protection concerns was extremely long, he said, citing among other things the unlawful recruitment of children, sexual violence, imprisonment, and being made victims of, witnesses to and participants in atrocities. Limited access to food, water and shelter affected children disproportionately, as seen in Yemen and Syria as well as during the conflict in Iraq. He noted the active role of ICRC in re establishing family links.
Ms. SHERIF said the average humanitarian appeal today lasted seven years. By comparison, a child's school cycle should be 12 years. Children in conflict situations were thus losing the right to a quality education, and so too were the generation behind them. Moreover, only 39 per cent of refugee children were in primary school. Every armed conflict, without exception, was a protection crisis, marked by violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law � including the Convention on the Rights of the Child � and, increasingly, refugee law. Impunity had intensified despite efforts to put into place an international law enforcement structure, including the International Criminal Court. Focusing on girls, she said those living amid conflict were 90 per cent less likely to get a quality education. Another challenge was that only 3 to 4 per cent of humanitarian funding went to education, she said, wondering if that reflected how much value was being put on human minds.
When the floor was opened for discussion, delegates from Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, Andorra and Bangladesh raised questions and made comments on such issues as humanitarian access, respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, improving public advocacy, collaboration between humanitarian workers and development workers, and the cross border dimension of children in conflict situations and humanitarian crises.
Mr. MARDINI spoke further on international humanitarian law as it applied to schools in conflict zones, explaining that ICRC, when present on the ground, would attempt to convince parties to conflict not to use schools, hospitals or other infrastructure for military purposes.
Ms. FORE said she shared the concern about the use of schools by combatants, adding that the safety and protection of children on their way to and from their places of learning was a matter of concern as well. She emphasized the role of quick response financing mechanisms, saying that swift mobilization of funds had made it possible to move quickly in the case of Rohingya in Bangladesh and the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ms. SHERIF said the Government of Bangladesh had been extremely generous in responding to the Rohingya crisis, including the provision of education by enabling the work of her organization. She also underscored the role that the Security Council must play to ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.
Ms. MALEK emphasized the need to focus on girls' education, as they were not prioritized. That required collaboration and working together. Noting that girls also required support with menstrual hygiene management, she said that in times of crisis, the importance of education was forgotten, yet those most in need were the people in the midst of crisis. Children were seen as vulnerable and fragile, but they were also aware, living in the present and knowing more than adults. Their needs must be listened to, as they would grow up to be the adults of tomorrow. Without investing in education and listening to children's voices, where would the world be going, she wondered.
The moderator asked Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa), Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, about his own experiences and why the impact of armed conflict on children was an issue that mattered so much to him.
Mr. MATJILA said that, having been a refugee, Ms. Malek's story resonated well with him. In his case, he did not go to school, but became a guerrilla fighter, during which he was told that schools and hospitals were never to be targeted. He was also told never to attack a white child, a white school or a white hospital, even as police in South Africa at the time were attacking black school children. It was therefore surprising to hear that fighters today were not being taught never to attack schools, or to respect the Red Cross emblem, he said. Don't forget refugees, because they may be tomorrow's leaders � and if you care, give a helping hand, he added. Children crossing borders should be given an identity, some form of belonging, a sense of dignity and recognition. He suggested that the United Nations draft a resolution that would state that schools and hospitals must never be attacked, whatever the circumstances.
Panel Discussion II
This afternoon, the Council convened an interactive session on the theme, Addressing the challenges, risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable. Moderated by Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, it featured: Lisa Goddard, Director, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University; Satyendra Prasad, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations; Ronald Jackson, Executive Director, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency; Mohamed Beavogui, Director General, African Risk Capacity; Ibrahim Lumumba Idi Issa, Deputy Executive Secretary, Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel; and Osnat Lubrani, United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative (Fiji) covering 10 Pacific small island developing States.
Ms. MUELLER said the panel would explore how the humanitarian system could better address the impacts of extreme weather and natural hazards on the world's most vulnerable people. In 2017, drought and other climate events affected millions, with 19 million people newly displaced across the world. In such countries as Somalia, the effects of climate change threatened to roll back development strides and would take years to repair. At the same time, the global humanitarian system was working harder than ever. The El NiAo episode of 2016 2017 was one of the strongest on record, prompting countries across several continents to seek assistance for more than 60 million people.
Noting that a blueprint for action had been created to pave the way forward to address El NiAo style events in the future, she said early warning systems were also being used more frequently and effectively. While most climate events were predictable, the current humanitarian funding system did not incentivize early action. The United Nations humanitarian system was working to shift that incentive structure and create a more accountable, predictable financing model, which was linked to risk insurance. The private sector could also play a part, including through humanitarian impact bonds. Among other things, she asked the panellists to discuss ways to make vulnerable people more resilient to shocks, and to ensure better coordination and resilience to shocks at every level of Government.
Ms. GODDARD, responding to a question about how she viewed the evolution of the humanitarian landscape in the next 10 20 years, said climate variability was a phenomenon with which humanity had always lived. There were slow onset events and sudden ones. Today, the dominant trend being seen around the world was temperature change, which was beginning to impact such phenomenon as heat stress and the intensity of storms. Those same trends would continue to be seen in the next two decades and beyond, she said. Spotlighting the phenomenon of decadal scale variability, which was being studied in the Sahel region, she said the world was also changing in other ways that were putting people and resources in harm's way and placing more pressure on water and other basic service systems. All those phenomena would necessitate more humanitarian assistance in some cases, she said, noting that each El NiAo and La NiAa event differed and would impact regions in different ways. Citing unprecedented rainfall during Kenya's 2015 2016 rainy season � caused by El NiAo � she said officials there had struggled with preparedness, but going forward they could learn from that experience and become more resilient. El NiAo is your opportunity to act, she said.
Mr. PRASAD said Fiji and many other Pacific islands were living with great uncertainty and variability in their weather patterns. Droughts, once seen only in June or July, now also occurred at other times of the year. Governments have to live with this, which is not a very easy thing to do, he said, noting that predictability allowed officials to structure budgets, allocate resources and deliver them. Today's unpredictability was financially difficult and politically challenging, he said, noting that it was hard to take resources away from education to prepare for potential weather patterns. When extreme weather events hit, as they inevitably did, developing countries also suffered setbacks in their sustainable development progress. De risking uncertainty � finding ways to take some of the pressure off Governments � would be a crucial element of preparedness going forward, he said, calling on Governments, donors and international organizations to avoid working in their traditional silos. Also needed was the political will to deal with those highly uncertain climate events, he said, adding that countries should be aware of the tools available to them well in advance.
Mr. JACKSON, participating via videoconference, shared some lessons learned from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, noting that the nature of last year's storms had laid bare the vulnerability and underlying risk drivers that had so far gone unaddressed in the Latin American and Caribbean region. They had underscored the need to address such issues as poverty and development challenges. The region's response was now focused on institutional strengthening; using science for informed decision making; examining the needs of key sectors of society; and developing early warning systems. The storms had also exposed the need for enhanced national responses; the importance of standardized building codes and their enforcement; and the need to engage in perpetual readiness. Additionally, he said, the 2017 storm season had exposed huge gaps in preparedness financing � bearing in mind the high debt levels borne by many Caribbean countries � and demonstrated the need for those States to diversify their economies. We are balancing the urgent with the important, he said, stressing that countries of the region were now moving towards a paradigm of smarter investment, better climate change mitigation, reductions in national debt, better leadership and pursuing more appropriate development practices in general.
Mr. LUMUMBA IDI-ISSA said the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel was mandated to combat food insecurity and desertification while seeking a new ecological balance in the region. Noting that States had joined the organization to learn from its accumulated experience, he spotlighted the cross border nature of its work, describing efforts to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards and other extreme weather phenomenon and to prepare communities across the Sahel to respond to them. One particular initiative, piloted by his organization with support from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), worked to develop national resilience and capacity. Meanwhile, a dialogue platform had been created to help communities interact about their specific sustainability and preparedness practices. Efforts were also under way to preserve the Sahel's limited water resources as its rainy season became more unpredictable, and communities had adopted water management techniques which allowed them to make use of limited water reserves throughout the longer dry season. Outlining similar projects related to the prevention of food crises � which were run jointly with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international organizations � he said they involved weather forecasting and capacity building.
Mr. BA�AVOGUI recalled the 2012 establishment of African Risk Capacity � a specialized agency of the African Union � noting that the continent had foreseen significant climate uncertainty and decided to pool its risk, to address it in a more effective and efficient way. Meanwhile, Germany and the United Kingdom had provided non interest loans to an insurance company that had in turn helped to transfer the cost of risk away from African countries. Currently, 17 States had signed memoranda of understanding with the African Risk Capacity, and eight countries had purchased insurance plans with about $400 million underwritten to date. Following that restructuring of risk, weather events had occurred in four countries, resulting in payouts. In the current season, efforts were under way to address potential weather events related to excessive rainfall, he said, adding that African Risk Capacity was also launching an outbreaks and epidemics unit to address future challenges in those areas. Noting that the type of insurance being used was known as sovereign insurance, he said a strong multidisciplinary network and committed partnerships were critical to its success. Describing various political and budgetary sensitivities, he said insurance is not a panacea and should be considered along with social protection systems and other tools.
Ms. LUBRANI said that, as Resident Coordinator, her daily work was tied to the humanitarian responses of countries in the region. While there was much uncertainty, there was certainty that natural hazards would strike at least one of the Pacific small island developing States. Citing one example, she said that a cyclone had recently wiped out an estimated 38 per cent of Tonga's entire gross domestic product (GDP). Addressing risk and building stronger partnerships for preparedness were therefore major aspects of her development work, she said, adding that the United Nations humanitarian responses � led by Governments in as local a manner as possible � were also closely linked to such work. While international support was used as much as necessary, responses were becoming better tailored to local contexts. Noting that Governments continued to struggle following the end of humanitarian responses, she underlined the importance of financing for reconstruction � as well as the adequate capacity and expedited administrative processes needed to use it.
As the floor was opened for questions and comments � including several submitted via an online messaging platform � many speakers joined in calls for a paradigm shift in the international humanitarian system in which anticipatory and early action capacities received more funding and attention. Speakers and panellists also discussed ways to convince donors and high level Government officials to invest in those efforts, as well as how to best operationalize them within the United Nations system.
Ms. GODDARD, in that vein, said that while funding for anticipatory, forecast based funding was much harder to access than humanitarian funds � in part because there were no heart wrenching images of people in need � it was actually more cost effective. Noting that some global forecast models were better than others, she said any single system must be evaluated over time. Once a model was proven to be comfortably accurate, donors could be more easily be convinced to contribute to anticipatory funding drives and the process would become more transparent.
The representative of El Salvador, noting that Governments still largely viewed the climate change agenda, the global disaster risk reduction agenda and other similar processes as distinct and separate, asked how the Economic and Social Council could bring added value to their implementation while avoiding duplication. Spotlighting the high debt burden on middle income countries, he said the United Nations should pursue efforts to cancel such national debts, adding that that the Council's high level political forum on sustainable development was well placed to assist countries to take more risk informed strategies on board.
The representative of New Zealand said nothing could substitute for building capacity at the local level. Noting that disaster management offices were often small, marginalized or part time, he said they must now become a core part of public policy and planning. He also asked the panellists for their views on how to gain political support for preparedness and planning at the highest levels.
The representative of Germany joined in calls for a major shift within the humanitarian system, urging partners to help bring anticipatory action to scale using scientific data. More evidence would help overcome the current lack of willingness to invest in anticipatory funding, he said.
China's representative, sharing his Government's efforts to strengthen and better coordinate humanitarian responses, underlined the importance of streamlined administrative arrangements at the central and local levels. He also spotlighted efforts to engage communities and markets in those efforts, and described his Government's efforts to build better early warning systems.
The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) underlined the need to include migration and mobility issues in disaster risk reduction planning. When not well managed, migration could exacerbate crises; when done properly, it could build resilience. She asked the panellists how migration should be included in humanitarian action plans related to natural hazards.
Mr. LUMUMBA IDI-ISSA, responding to the question posed by New Zealand's delegate about building political will, said the member States of his agency had agreed to a harmonized risk analysis framework. Some Heads of State were more willing to make use of the framework than others, and there had even been instances where data were kept from the public for political reasons. Noting that stakeholders must work together in a more consistent way, he proposed that data be brought to States at the local level and certified in ways that would be seen as helpful in the immediate local context.
The panellists also delivered brief closing remarks.
Source: United Nations