To put things into perspective in your life…

Posted on 07 September 2010

I was reading different documents and thought that the two following excerpts would also be of interest to you too. It looks long, but is an easy read and is both informative and mind-boggling.

Pic taken in Camp Aéro, Bunia, East DRCongo, 2005

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes – Opening remarks at UN ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment – 14 July 2010, New York:

“I have spelled out in previous years how we were expecting demands for humanitarian assistance to grow because of chronic and increasingly acute vulnerability caused by global trends such as climate change, the recent global food crisis, demographics, and changes in the climate and key ecosystems. These are no longer predictions – they have become reality, with profound consequences for humanitarian and development work. Globally in 2010, humanitarian needs continued to rise, sustained and triggered in part by armed conflict, but also driven by natural disasters and global structural challenges. […]

Natural disasters continued to increase humanitarian needs in 2009 and 2010, even if the majority of these needs still flow from man-made disasters. In the first half of 2010 there were massive earthquakes not only in Haiti, but also in Chile and China. Both the Chinese and Chilean Governments responded rapidly by deploying relief and assessment teams, temporary shelter materials, food, medicine and water to the affected area, with some assistance from the international community. The Haiti earthquake, the second deadliest in the last 100 years, necessitated one of the largest and most complex international relief operations mounted in recent years, one which six months on is still in full emergency mode, with 1.3 million people in temporary and unsatisfactory shelters, and very vulnerable to the continuing rainy and hurricane season. My visit there over the last two days confirmed both how much we have achieved in six months, and how much we still have to do.

Somewhat less high profile but still very significant in their humanitarian impact were the slow-onset disasters. In South and East Asia, Africa and Central America, unpredictable and unprecedented weather patterns have become the new normal. In the last year alone, for example, we have launched appeals for people affected by chronic drought-related vulnerability in Guatemala, Kenya and in Niger. Asia saw major flooding crises from successive cyclones in autumn 2009, with the Philippines particularly severely hit. In many of the countries in which we work, the impact of climate change is already being deeply felt, often in what are traditionally perceived as development settings. Floods and droughts are not only more frequent but increasingly unpredictable. Rains no longer arrive in large parts of Africa at the times they should. Farmers in Uganda, Chad and Sudan have told me that they no longer know when to plant or when, or indeed even if, they can expect to harvest.

In the Horn of Africa, humanitarians are working with nearly 23 million people severely affected by a drought which has in some areas lasted six years, and dealing with large and growing affected populations, weakened by years of difficulty and insufficiency. Similarly, the most severe food and nutrition crisis in decades has spread across the African Sahel belt this year, as I saw dramatically illustrated by thousands of children being treated for severe malnutrition in feeding centres, on recent visits to Niger and western Chad. Against the same background of cumulative problems from global trends, lack of reserves, exhausted coping mechanisms, and rapidly growing populations, malnutrition rates are now well above emergency levels and continuing to rise. This crisis in particular still threatens a major human catastrophe if we do not act in time, with the right level of resources.

Many countries have been hit by a combination of global financial crisis and economic downturn, extreme poverty, resource scarcity, particularly of water, population growth, rapid urbanization, and volatile energy prices. For example, while global food prices have decreased since the peaks in 2008, they still remain high relative to historic levels, affecting an estimated one billion people. And locally, in many developing countries, they are often higher still. Combined, these factors threaten to create chronic acute vulnerability on a scale we cannot readily imagine now. More hunger, malnutrition, misery, displacement and death are likely to be the outcome of these so-called mega trends.

As I have already suggested, most of our work continues to be related, sadly, to the humanitarian consequences of conflict. Protracted conflicts in places such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan show no sign of letting up. The actual or potential drawdown of peacekeeping missions in several contexts will pose further challenges to affected communities and humanitarian operations. Humanitarian needs arising from conflict have also kept growing as new internal conflicts have appeared, with particularly serious impact on civilians caught in the middle of them. We saw this in 2009 for example in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as new twists to old conflict situations, with the Lord’s Resistance Army’s continuing and appalling brutalities in north-east DRC and southern CAR.

Globally, an estimated 27 million people are now considered internally displaced because of armed conflict, with over 6 million newly displaced in 2009 alone. 10.4 million refugees were meanwhile being assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2009, in addition of course to the Palestinian refugees helped by UNRWA.

All this tells us not just that humanitarian needs are greater now than ever, but also that our worst-case projections of where humanitarian trends might go in the next few years are materialising. Even in countries where we have seen some improvement of the humanitarian situation, such as in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, the need for significant assistance will continue in the immediate future. There are nevertheless a few places where we have been able to close or reduce [our] presence because, even though the situations often remain fragile, humanitarian needs have declined significantly. Examples are East Timor, Nepal, Cote d’Ivoire and Uganda. So there is some good news, among the bad.”

Pic taken in Tché Camp, Ituri, East DRCongo, 2005

Report of the Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly – 6-31 July 2009:

“Humanitarian stakeholders are increasingly concerned about the combined impacts of current global challenges such as climate change, extreme poverty, the food crisis, the financial crisis, water and energy scarcity, migration, population growth, urbanization, terrorism, and health pandemics. While anticipating the evolution of these often interdependent challenges — which are driven by various underlying political, economic, demographic, environmental and technological actors — is a complex task, it is clear that their individual and combined impacts are already shifting, and will continue to shape our way of life and its sustainability. […]

In addition to humanitarian emergencies driven by single events, an outbreak of conflict or the onset of earthquakes or tsunamis, there will be an increasing number of emergencies driven by a broad range of non-traditional threats emanating from intersecting global challenges.”

We couldn’t say we didn’t know! There are many things that can be done to prevent or diminish the impact of these emergencies (such as developing early warning systems, tackling root causes of poverty, improving education and transferring skills, etc), but I think the first effect of reading these lines is simply to put things into perspective in our own life – without sounding patronizing (hopefully)!

Pic taken in Camp Aéro, Bunia, East DRCongo, 2005


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