US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

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March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Ukraine Rebels Expel UN Aid Agencies

Screenshot 2015-09-24 at 6.37.43 PM
Sept. 24, 2015 –  The top UN humanitarian official on Thursday called on pro-Russia rebels to immediately allow the resumption of United Nations and international NGO aid activities in eastern Ukraine.

All UN agencies operating in Luhansk have been ordered to leave by Sept. 25 and a decision by the rebels on expelling aid agencies from Donetsk remains on hold.

I am alarmed by news that the de facto authorities in eastern Ukraine have ordered UN agencies in Luhansk to end operations and to leave the area by tomorrow,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said in a statement. “Their continued failure in this regard constitutes a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

He added that agencies are unable to deliver 16,000 tons of aid including anesthesia, insulin and tubercolosis vaccine.

“Patients lives are at risk,” O’Brien said. “Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.”

Ukraine is currently trying to control a cholera outbreak that paralyzed two children earlier this month.

“I call on the de facto authorities in both Luhansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities,” O’Brien’s statement added. “Furthermore, I call on everyone with influence over the de facto authorities to use that influence to ensure the immediate resumption of humanitarian aid by UN agencies and international NGOs, and to win a commitment by the authorities to end interference in the provision of lifesaving assistance.

In addition to UN aid agencies, the rebels have also banned MSF and People in Need, among others, from operating in Luhansk, a city with a population of some 425,000.

The United Nations estimates that the 17-month conflict in Ukraine has killed almost 8,000 people, most of them civilians.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

  

 

Understanding Resilience – An Interview with the UNDP’s Samuel Doe

 Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)


Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)

July 10, 2015 – When Samuel Doe was growing up during Liberia’s 1990s civil-war he recalls aid workers distributing wheat to feed the hungry.

“Liberians never ate wheat. We had to learn to eat wheat,” he says. “It wasn’t our decision.” He also remembers mothers queuing up to receive cooked porridge to feed their babies and aid workers insisting on feeding the babies themselves. “They did not trust the mothers would feed their babies.”

“That sort of indignity is becoming less and less now,” says Doe, who is the UN Development Program’s policy adviser on resilience, an often-used and misunderstood term that is transforming the way aid and development work.

At a fundamental level, “resilience is about harnessing agency, the intentional action of human beings and believing that human beings can make dignified decisions that over time strengthen their independence, strengthen their interdependence and their self-reliance,” Doe explains.

But how does that translate on the ground for the UN and international NGO’s doing aid and development work and what were the reasons behind the shift to a resilience approach?

There are four broad reasons, Doe says.

The first is a realization that, with a lot of complex emergencies, once the response and recovery phase is over, these countries do not have a stronger society and stronger systems.

“We find them repeatedly again and again falling back onto those conditions of fragility that have been exacerbated by the crisis. Countries that have gone through war and have recurrence in 2-3, maybe 5-10 years,” Doe says. “Countries that have repeated disasters have been depleted of human resources and social capital. That is one of the reasons why people begin to ask how can we make the humanitarian response and recovery processes put countries on a path that is sustainable after a disaster.”

“The second reason behind the motivation, the push to resilience, is that prior to this thinking we have always thought in the international system that there is a sequential approach, a sequential relationship between humanitarian response and development. So there is a crisis, the first line actors are humanitarians, they do their bit then they get out and then we come in and then development people pick up the pieces. But, increasingly, depending on the quality of work that humanitarians do, they are likely inadvertently to make the development space more difficult.”

“For example in many humanitarian responses there is a tendency to develop parallel systems: we can’t work with the governments so we will establish our own coordination system, which brought about the cluster system. We will set up our own accountability system. The funding mechanism will go directly to the implementing organizations that we will work with. So government being the primary actor to responding to disaster is often left out in these emergency response.”

“Parallel systems that are developed in a crisis context that then overcrowd the local government systems over time make them almost inoperable to assume responsibility once the response is over. Many governments are saying increasingly that unless we use the country systems in preparing and responding to disasters it will be difficult for these countries to develop much more robust systems against future disasters.”

The third reason is that emergencies are increasingly slow-onset, says Doe, and aid and development work is happening at the same time.

“Take the case of Syria, the case of the Horn of Africa, or the case of the Sahel. There is no relief and then development. There is relief and then development constantly interacting because it’s a slow-onset crisis, it’s a protracted crisis. This illusion that humanitarians will do their bit, they will get out and then we’ll come in does not work. Therefore we have to cultivate a new way of working that allows development actors and humanitarian actors to work in the same space at the same time but that then puts a lot of pressure on the humanitarians who say well ‘we need the core humanitarian principles to still be respected,’ principles of neutrality, independence, impartiality. These need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. So how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. This is the discourse we are pushing.”

The fourth reason is that the architecture of the development and humanitarian communities reflects the financial architecture of the donor communities so there are donors that fund only humanitarian work and donors that only fund development work. “There is no bridge conceptually or operationally for humanitarians to tap into development funds and vice versa,” Doe says.

But slowly UN appeals are being reconfigured to move away from short-term appeals, months or up to one year, to multi-year appeals that address both the humanitarian emergency and the underlying development issues.

So how will a resilience approach be implemented and what lessons have been learned from the past?

“Society should have the capacity to predict risk and if possible prevent risk using development, prevent the threat factors that are preventable,” says Doe. “So say, for example, we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we’re saying the recovery plan should emphasize the resilience of the countries because when the crisis happened, it only took three months for Ebola to destroy the institutions the international community had invested billions into in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It took just three months for the economy to go into free fall, for the health systems to collapse completely. The highest donor support in Liberia was to the health sector. The system that we put the most money into was the system that collapsed in three months. What gave way to that?”

“Prior to Ebola, Liberia had literally 51 doctors for 4.5 million people. More than two-thirds of those doctors were concentrated in Monrovia, Although we’re investing in building the infrastructure of the health system, we’re building the clinics, but the Liberian medical school was producing less than 20 doctors every year. It’s appalling that the doctors being produced weren’t equipped to deal with very basic supply chain management, access of rural clinics to supplies, roads that were inaccessible. Even basic gloves were not in villages and clinics. So the way we invested in the health system focused a lot on payment of salaries, focused a lot on building the infrastructure but the human capital that is necessary to sustain those systems was less invested in. So our investment was sort of skewered to different priorities.”

A major push behind resilience thinking is strengthening local governments as they are the front-line responders to a crisis.

“If we do risk sensitive development we need to emphasize local government systems, emphasize working with local governments, making sure local governments and administrative bodies are strong, that local governments have their own preparedness capacity in place,” Doe says. “That there is a strong, fluid, very active supply line, a communication line that runs across local and central governments. We’ve  seen that in the Ebola crisis, we’ve seen that in other crisis: when the local systems are functioning, when the local communities are actively engaging the systems, the response capacity is fast and is effective.”

The resilience approach is now being used for the Syrian crisis and Doe explains the thinking that lead to this.

“There was tension between humanitarians and the development people. At some point the humanitarians said this is a humanitarian crisis, we want to focus on humanitarian issues. we do not want the development actors to confuse this, but over time we all realized that this crisis is going on years and it’s transnational. Turkey is affected, Jordan is affected, Lebanon is affected. They all have refugees. The refugees are not all in camps, they’re in homes, some are working. So you can’t use the way we do humanitarian response in that setting.”

“In Lebanon for example you have two shifts of schools, morning and in the afternoon, so maybe you have to increase the salaries of teachers. Paying that cannot come through a humanitarian fund, it goes through the government. That is the kind of thing that is happening. Strengthening systems of governments so that they deliver on a humanitarian crisis. Rather than strengthening humanitarian systems so that they deliver only humanitarian aid. So that is the distinction that is being made in the Syrian situation.”

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Another example Doe gave is the credit card system used in Jordan where Syrian refugees are given prepaid cards instead of aid workers determining what goods and services the refugees need, the refugees decide for themselves.

“They have credit cards now, they can go to a bank, use their credit card and get their funds for their own welfare. That’s an example of choice, of empowerment. So giving them choice giving them the freedom of choice is an important outcome or characteristic of building resilience. It’s dignity,” says Doe, who was instrumental in designing the 3RP plan for Syria.

Although resilience has been a buzzword for the past few years, it is only now that it is being codified. The United Nations is about to release its UN System Principles on Building Resilience, a document two years in the making that involved not just the UN’s humanitarian and development arms but also international NGO’s working on the ground.

“It’s an amazing process, just to have a blueprint, something that is codified,” Doe says. Now the hard work starts. “Multi-year appeals, getting donors to  change their way of thinking, trying to really get governments thinking too that this is about ownership: this is your crisis. Working together more coherently getting coordination systems way ahead of time, making sure we have preparedness –  we spend billions of dollars on response but less than one percent on readiness of countries, changing that paradigm, making sure we spend a bit more money on getting people ready. Are these schools ready, are they producing the right human capital?”

Doe also says a more integrated early warning system, not just for food and conflict, but also pathogens is needed. He said there’s currently a push to get the EU to develop its own Center for Disease Control so that it too can provide global disease surveillance.

The stark reason why the UN is changing the way aid and development is done is simply because natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. This underlies the resilience approach.

“We will not be able to deal with all of these exogenously, just from outsiders going in,” Doe says. “That’s not going to work.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien

Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien

May 31, 2015 – The new head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, who takes over from Valerie Amos on Monday as the world’s top aid official, will have to immediately tackle a funding crisis, work more with local actors, and strengthen OCHA’s role in conflict and complex situations, such as in Syria and Somalia, says Shannon Scribner of Oxfam’s humanitarian policy team.

OCHA has received less than 25 percent of the almost $20 billion it appealed for at the start of the year to assist 114 million people affected by disaster and conflict, and new crises continue to emerge such as the earthquake in Nepal and the deteriorating situation in Yemen as well as a growing crisis in Burundi.

“Stephen O’Brien is stepping into a situation where the UN system is overwhelmed. So that would be the first business, how is he going to address this overwhelmed system where the UN is responding to four L3 emergencies in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria and they don’t have enough funding to do that,” said Scribner in an interview with UN Tribune. “Oxfam would make two recommendations. The first would be recommending mandatory assessments for UN member states for humanitarian assistance. This would be similar to what they do in UN peacekeeping where they have assessed contributions.”

Scribner added that this is something that O’Brien could work on with the new high-level panel on humanitarian financing that was appointed by Ban Ki-moon last week. The UN currently relies on voluntary contributions for relief funding.

“The other thing that Oxfam is going to start emphasizing and Stephen O’Brien should be looking at this, as well as International NGOs like Oxfam, is we need to do more direct funding to local actors,” she said.

“The assistance we give is often too little and it’s often too late but we have local actors, such as local NGO’s and civil-society and, where appropriate, governments. From 2007-2013, only 2.4 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors and that just doesn’t make sense,” Scribner said. “They’re the first responders on the ground and they’re often the ones who are put in harm’s way. If you look at the number of aid workers that have been killed, the majority are local aid workers so we need to do a better job as a humanitarian community – international NGOs, UN OCHA and donors – to give more direct assistance to local actors.”

As an example of how neglect of local NGOs affects an emergency response, she said that meetings of the humanitarian cluster groups in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake were held in French or English even though most of the first responders spoke Creole “so that wasn’t helpful.”

Scribner added that local actors are not really considered true partners in the humanitarian response but rather as sub-contractors to implement programs that have already been designed. She said they need to be seen “as true partners where they are designing the interventions with us and they’re implementing the interventions.”

Finally, she said that the UN has do a better job in complex and conflict situations and need to appoint envoys who know the region or country and even better, know the local language, and where the UN has already has a mandate, it must ensure that protecting civilians is part of that mandate and its neutrality is unquestioned.

As an example, Scribner cited the UN’s support for the Africa Union mission in Somalia where the emphasis is on protecting government institutions.

“If they have a political mandate, then they’re going to be seen as political and they’re going to be seen as allying with one side. Their mandate should really be about giving assistance to people in need and making sure NGO’s have access, and protecting aid workers,” she said. “We have seen an increase in the number of aid workers that have been attacked and killed. In 2001 there was about 90 violent attacks on aid workers and in 2013, there was 460 such incidents and 80 percent of fatalities since 2001 have been local aid workers. If the UN can really show such leadership in those areas it will really help on the ground – they do play a very tricky and difficult role in these complex crises.”

Scribner said that the liaison role OCHA plays is key for humanitarian efforts in conflict situations but that it hasn’t always been up to the task and this will need to be on O’Brien’s list of pressing priorities. “NGO’s like Oxfam rely on OCHA to play the main liaison role in conflict settings and that’s really important for the independence and neutrality of NGO’s. I think Syria’s an example where we needed UN OCHA to really step up and play that role and they just don’t have the presence on the ground and the International NGOs are left to to kind of fill that role in terms of access and that liaison role. That is something he will have to grapple with, especially in these complex emergencies that are continuing to grow.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

On Twitter @denisfitz 

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Syrian Government Attacks on Medical Facilities Reach Record High in April

hcid-ambulance
May 28, 2015 – A medical facility was attacked almost every other day by Syrian government forces during April and the majority of attacks involved the use of barrel bombs, Ban Ki-moon reported to the Security Council on Thursday.

In his monthly report to the Council, Ban wrote that there were 14 attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in April. Five of the attacks occurred in Idlib, four in Aleppo, two in Damascus and one each in the Deir ez -Zor, Hama and Hasakeh Governorates. In addition, ambulances and medical personnel continue to be targeted. Seven medial workers were killed in April, five by shelling and two who were shot. Government forces were responsible for all attacks, the UN chief stated.

“The number of attacks on medical facilities in April was the highest monthly total on record in my monthly reports since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2139,” Ban wrote. “Attacks on such facilities have a multiplier effect, not only killing and injuring, but also leaving many people unable to get the treatment that they need.”

Meanwhile, the number of people in besieged areas stands at 422,000 including 163,500 besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta. No assistance reached eastern Ghouta in April but in early May, the World Health Organization was able to deliver, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), diabetes treatment for 200 people as well as two dialysis machines, according to the report.

WHO had requested permission to send 2,000 renal failure medicines but permission was granted for only 250. The SARC convoy delivering the aid was hit by mortar fire resulting in the death of one volunteer and injuries to three others.

More than 225,000 people are besieged by ISIL Deir ez-Zor city. No aid has reached them since March when the Food and Agriculture Organization delivered 140 sheep.

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The government is also confiscating medical supplies, Ban said in the monthly report to the Council.

“Despite obtaining approval from the local authorities, all injectable medicines, surgical supplies and medical kits were removed from a United Nations inter-agency convoy to Ar-Rastan in Homs by the security forces. Consequently, people were deprived of 10,459 treatments,” he said in the report.”

A measles vaccination campaign by UNICEF and WHO in April targeting 2.5 million children reached 1.6 million children, Ban wrote. ISIL did not permit the campaign in Raqqa and large parts of Deir ez -Zor with the exception of allowing 1,000 children to be vaccinated in Raqqa. Fighting prevented the campaign reaching other areas including in Aleppo, Homs and rural Damascus.

Nine humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Syria since the start of the year, according to the report, bringing to 76 the number killed since March 2011.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: ICRC

Ban Ki-moon Monthly Report on Syria resolutions

UN Unable to Reach 420,000 Besieged in Syria

ACC-11_SYR_Overview of hard-to-reach and besieged locations_jan_2014_A0_ 150330(1)

OCHA map of besieged areas in Syria. Click for larger image.

April 22, 2015 – United Nations aid agencies delivered food to only 18,200 people in besieged areas of Syria last month while health assistance reached a mere 1,198, according to new report from Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council.

Ban wrote that 440,000 people remain besieged in Syria including 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya, a further 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra while 228,000 are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor city as well as 18,000 in Yarmouk.

“The parties to the conflict continued to restrict access to besieged areas during March,” Ban wrote. “United Nations agencies reached a total of 18,000 people (4 per cent) with food assistance and 1,198 people (0.3 per cent) with health assistance. No core relief items were dispatched during the reporting period.”

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The secretary-general’s report stated that with the exception of a supply of water for 300 people last month, no aid has been delivered to eastern Ghouta since March. In the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir ez-Zor city, 228,000 people are besieged by ISIL and no United Nations aid has reached them since May 2014, the report said. ISIL has also deactivated a power plant in Deir-az-Zor, severely restricting the water supply for besieged residents.

The report also details continuing summary execution and torture by government forces and ISIS.

The full report is below.

Secretary-General Report on Syria, April 2015

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

ODA from Major Economies Stable at $135 Billion

oda figures 2014
April 8, 2015 – Aid from the 29 members of the OECD’s Development Assistant Committee totaled $135 billion in 2014, on par with the previous year which set a record for overseas development assistance.

The members of DAC, which consist of most EU countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States, gave the bulk of the assistance to sub-Saharan African countries ($39 billion) followed by South and Central Asia ($23 billion), and Far and East Asia ($12 billion).

Aid to the Middle East, where the conflict in Syria has left 12 million people in need, totaled $11.7 billion in 2014.

The top DAC donors last year were the United States, $32 billion, United Kingdom, $19 billion, Germany, $16 billion, France, $10 billion, and Japan, $9 billion.

Five of the countries exceeded the 0.7 percent of GDP UN target for ODA: Sweden, 1.1 percent; Luxembourg, 1.07 percent; Norway, 0.99 percent, Denmark, 0.85 percent and the UK, 0.71 percent. (see charts)

G7 countries contributed a total of 0.27 percent of their GDP with Japan and the United States both contributing 0.19 percent of their GDP to ODA. Non-G7 countries contributed 0.37 percent of their GDP to ODA.

The OECD report showed that aid to the world’s least developed countries dropped 16 percent this year to $25 billion.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

How Much is a UN Security Council Seat Worth and Which Countries Get Elected?

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
Oct. 15, 2014 – Five of the ten non-permanent Security Council seats are up for grabs on Thursday though only one race is contested with New Zealand, Spain and Turkey battling in the Western group to replace Australia and Luxembourg for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2015.

Angola will replace Rwanda for the available African seat, Malaysia will take over from South Korea in the Asia group while Venezuela also has no competition in the race for the Latin American seat being vacated by Argentina.

Why do countries run for a non-permanent seat knowing that the Council is essentially ruled by the Permanent Five members, not to mention the extra expenses associated with increasing diplomatic staff to attend to the UNSC’s expanding workload.

One study has shown that developing countries serving on the Council see their aid from the United States increase by 59 percent and aid from the UN increase by 8 percent, mostly coming from UNICEF, an agency long controlled by the US.

Another paper found that developing countries serving on the Council receive greater support from the World Bank and IMF and receive softer loan conditions from the IMF – but only if they side with the US. For example, as related in yet another study, on vote-buying, Yemen voted against the 1990 resolution authorizing force in Iraq and the US subsequently cut its 70 million dollars in aid entirely and Yemen was not granted an IMF arrangement for six years.

As for which countries get elected, there is a pattern of not electing countries in conflict in Asia and Africa and of favoring democratic states in the Western group. All WEOG countries are now considered democratic but during the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal – only Spain, in 1961, was ever elected. Since transitioning to democracy, these three countries have served at least twice on the Council. It helps to get elected to the Council if a country in Asia or Latin America is a former former British colony but not so much in Africa, according to this study.

The votes of at least four non-permanent members are needed for a resolution to pass the 15-nation Council, and, as evidenced by this 2010 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, the US mission to the UN will be busy categorizing the five countries to be elected tomorrow as reliable or not so reliable partners.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz