UNGA Holds Debate on Strengthening Disaster Relief Assistance

15 December 2010: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) held a debate, on 15 December 2010, in New York, US, on strengthening UN coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.

Among the documents before the Assembly was the UN Secretary-General's report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/65/356), which provides an overview of the occurrence of disasters associated with natural hazards and highlights emerging trends, their implications for humanitarian action and key challenges. The report states that the risk of disasters had clearly been rising, owing to more frequent and intense weather-related hazards and greater numbers of people living in exposed coastal and urban areas.

The document identifies climate change as a major driver of disaster risk and finds that, from June to October 2009, major climate-related hazards recorded included: devastating floods in several West African countries; flooding caused by cyclones in Southern Africa; three consecutive typhoons in South-East Asia, particularly in the Philippines; landslides and flooding in northern Myanmar; and a third consecutive year of drought in the north-eastern region of the Syrian Arab Republic. The report further underlines the importance of strengthening the use of vulnerability and climate information in humanitarian action. It identifies a functioning and effective information management system and information management strategy as key components of response preparedness.

Sweden introduced a draft resolution on strengthening emergency humanitarian assistance of the UN (document A/65/L.45), noting that the established consensus on the global humanitarian agenda sent a strong message to the international community. He explained that the text expresses deep concern about the UN and wider international community's emergency response capacity to such crises, natural disasters and the effects of climate change.

In the ensuing debate, Belgium, on behalf of the EU, underscored that climate change had sparked an increase in the magnitude and frequency of natural disasters such as floods, droughts and cyclones. With Cuba, he added that the poorest and most vulnerable people, especially in the world's poorest countries, remained the most seriously affected. Cuba also noted that they had contributed least to the environmental degradation that had led to such destructive disasters.

The United Arab Emirates underlined that his country was a major partner in the international partnership for development and assistance of countries affected by natural disasters, climate change and armed conflicts. Kazakhstan noted with deep regret the difficult situations that had emerged due to climate change, emphasizing that since 2009, more than 300 cases of natural disasters had affected about 113 million people and killed more than 10,000.

Colombia expressed his country's sympathy to the victims of Hurricane Tomas in the Caribbean, and noted that Colombia was the Latin American country with the highest average incidence of natural disasters related to climate in the last 30 years. New Zealand called on the international community to do much more in the areas of mitigation and adaptation to deal with the effects of climate change. He stated that the small island States of the Pacific and other regions were among the most vulnerable to weather anomalies, and the international community must invest more in early recovery to bridge the gap between life-saving humanitarian work and longer-term development. [UN Press Release]