H.E. Mr. Shinichi Kitaoka
Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan
Humanitarian Affairs Segment, Substantive Session, Economic
& Social Council
12 JULY 2004
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland for his presentation on the present situation of humanitarian assistance and the challenges we face. As the Under-Secretary-General pointed out, we are observing changes in the way that some local communities perceive and accept humanitarian assistance activities. These result in particular from the increasing scale of humanitarian assistance, which has a large impact on local communities, as well as the growing involvement of military forces in relief activities. This being the case, I would like to touch upon the relationship between humanitarian assistance activities and local communities and also upon the involvement of the military in humanitarian assistance.
For humanitarian workers to be accepted by local communities, I believe it is essential to bear in mind that the main actors are those who find themselves in a difficult situation. Humanitarian workers should play a supporting role, assisting the local population in its efforts to deal with problems. The people in a local community, in other words, should have ownership of the process by which they improve their living conditions. They should make full use of the strengths of their unique social and cultural heritage from the earliest possible stage, even in the midst of a crisis that makes humanitarian assistance necessary.
There are several approaches which contribute to ensuring the ownership of local population. First, humanitarian workers should respect local traditions and cultures and engage actively in dialogue with the local population. For example, refugee camps should be administered based on local customs such as respect for older people. When local NGOs are present, they should be fully involved in assistance activities. Second, regional organizations can play an important role as neighbors, which is also local ownership in a broader context, and Japan welcomes the measures that regional organizations have increasingly taken to protect and assist people in need. Third, the efforts of the local population to become self-reliant should be assisted by promoting their empowerment at an early stage in situations where humanitarian assistance is required. In this context, Japan is pleased that the development agencies of the United Nations, which used to start their activities after humanitarian agencies finished their work, are now trying to go into the field at an early stage of humanitarian assistance activities and thereby ensure a smooth transition from relief to development. I should point out that this is also an essential aspect of human security.
The engagement of military forces in humanitarian assistance is another subject which recently has been discussed extensively. I understand that humanitarian workers are in general cautious about the involvement of the military, as this could change the perception of humanitarian assistance. On the other hand, Security Council resolution 1546 requests Member States and international and regional organizations to contribute assistance to the multinational force, including military forces to help meet the needs of the Iraqi people for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.
In my view, there are instances where military engagement is indispensable for the implementation of humanitarian assistance activities. The question of military engagement must be discussed not only with regard to its impact on the perceptions of the local population but also with regard to what needs to be done to deliver assistance to people in need. In light of the original purpose of humanitarian assistance, difficult decisions concerning the utilization of military are sometimes unavoidable. As each situation and the elements to be considered differ, general rules have inherent limits and a case-by-case examination is necessary. From such a viewpoint, Japan supports the approach taken by the United Nations Secretariat, which is to study the impact that the engagement of military has had on humanitarian assistance, looking at individual situations such as that of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.
Last but not least, Mr. President, I would like to touch upon the issue of natural disasters. Japan is a disaster-prone country. In 1995, the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake deprived 6,433 people of their lives. A study has shown that the damage was mitigated in communities that had a stronger awareness of the importance of disaster management and in which people had closer ties. The lesson we learned is that, before an actual disaster happens, it is important for members of a community to have a good understanding of what they should do and a system that enables them to help each other. Actors at all levels, not only countries but also individuals should have ownership.
Natural disasters are a major obstacle to safety and security and also to the sustainable development of a country. It is therefore important to establish a framework to prevent them, diminish their impact through preparedness, and respond rapidly to when they occur. At the World Conference on Disaster Reduction to be held next January in Kobe, I hope that awareness will be enhanced of the need to reduce disasters and create a community that can resist them. It is also to be hoped that knowledge and experience with regard to disaster reduction will be shared, as they give a community strength, and a trend set in motion in which disaster reduction will be considered in the development of a country. I would like to appeal to Member States to participate actively in the conference so that it will be sure to have a fruitful outcome.
I commend humanitarian workers, wherever they are in the world, for continuing to shoulder a responsibility that at times puts their lives in danger. Despite their dedicated efforts, humanitarian assistance faces many challenges. I sincerely hope that the ECOSOC humanitarian segment, which is the sole forum in the United Nations devoted exclusively to the discussion of humanitarian affairs, will contribute to the united efforts of Member States to tackle the problems before us.