2004 Statement




Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations

Agenda Item 39 (a) and (c): Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

11 NOVEMBER 2004

Mr. President,

Although there have been some positive developments in the field of humanitarian assistance such as the repatriation of a large number of refugees, serious humanitarian crisis and disaster spots still remain and sometimes even increase in various parts of the world. It is really moving to hear of the assistance activities conducted by the brave and kind-hearted humanitarian workers in these places. However, it is becoming all the more urgent for us to find an effective answer to the following question: How are we to maintain humanitarian assistance activities in high-risk environments, in which humanitarian workers are increasingly exposed to danger? We believe it is time to re-examine the basic objectives of our humanitarian assistance under the current circumstances. Given the enormous amount of needs and given the limited resources available, I am afraid our humanitarian assistance could not be sustainable if its basic objective were simply to perpetually provide people in distress with necessary assistance. In our view, our humanitarian assistance must be geared toward creating a situation where people can live without assistance. Let me elaborate a little on this point.

We believe that a proper combination of ownership on the part of the people in need and partnership on the part of the outside supporters are the key to realizing a situation where humanitarian assistance eventually becomes unnecessary -- the sense of ownership that after all it is they themselves who own their lives, dignity, and future, and the partnership that where we see it as our duty to extend help to those who try their best to help themselves when they are in dire straits. Our humanitarian assistance should not become one-way traffic, charity going from donors to recipients. In our view, it should be based on joint undertaking between donors and recipients as equal partners. We have learned from our experience that proactive participation of recipients in the planning and implementing phase of humanitarian assistance makes the assistance most effective. For example, there have been cases in which we assigned traditional leaders a central role in the management of refugee camps at the suggestion of refugees themselves. They turned out to be quite successful. I believe that this kind of approach is very much in line with the concept of human security which Japan has been promoting, which tries to protect people in distress and encourage them to develop a sense of ownership over their destiny, and to empower them in response to their ownership through partnership. Of course, this approach has to be promoted in close collaboration with the government of the country concerned.

Mr. President,

There are several points which I consider important to making this approach successful.

The first is the need to expand the base of partnership. The number of actors should be increased as many as possible who participate in humanitarian assistance activities on the basis of shared humanitarian considerations. Humanitarian assistance need not and should not be the monopoly of developed countries. South-South cooperation should also be explored. This is the reason why Japan enthusiastically supports Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland’s efforts to expand partnership particularly, with Asian countries.

The second is the need to “go down into the field.” To carry out humanitarian assistance effectively, we have to be always attentive to the concrete needs of people on the ground, unfettered by prejudice. It is in this context that we attach importance to frank dialogue with people in need. By so doing, we believe we will be able to understand the real and specific, and concrete needs of people in distress and to foster their sense of ownership. For example, it was through such frank dialogue that Japan started contributing to the school feeding program of WFP. We found that the program matched very well the actual needs of the people, because it benefited the local community three times, first by purchasing agricultural products from the local community, second by providing meals to children at school, and third by giving them additional meals to eat at home.

Third, in order to provide humanitarian assistance that leads to reconstruction, development and eventually a durable solution to a humanitarian crisis, a holistic approach is needed, with close collaboration among those engaging in conflict prevention, peace-building, and development. It is essential to overcome the so-called gap between emergency relief and reconstruction. In line with this recognition, for example, Japan is now undertaking a comprehensive regional development program called the Ogata Initiative in one region of Afghanistan. Under this program, we are aiming at a seamless transition from relief to development. In adopting such a holistic approach, we believe it is important that the experience and know-how of the UN country team be fully respected. Close coordination between peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and reconstruction efforts is indispensable and the activities of a country team under a Resident Coordinator or a Humanitarian Coordinator should be fully utilized in such coordinated efforts, with due consideration of costs and benefits.

Mr. President,

Up to now, I have been discussing assistance to the victims of man-made miseries. But we should not forget that there are also natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, typhoons, hurricanes, and cyclones. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives and their livelihoods. We also need to be prepared to reduce the damage caused by natural disasters. Japan is to host the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe next January. At the conference, we hope to discuss desirable ways of sharing the experiences and know-how of each country with a view to building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters and of fostering partnership among the participating countries, international agencies and stakeholders.

Mr. President,

We need to discuss humanitarian principles more actively with a view to providing appropriate guidance to the relevant humanitarian actors at the United Nations. But it is meaningless to repeat the same discussions in the General Assembly and ECOSOC. One idea would be to give them a different focus. For example, ECOSOC might aim at providing guidance to UN agencies in discharging their humanitarian mandates and the General Assembly might strive to discuss fundamental values to be shared in humanitarian assistance. It is just one idea and we welcome other innovative ideas on revitalizing our work in the field of humanitarian assistance and hope to deepen our discussion to achieve more effective humanitarian activities.

I thank you, Mr. President.