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Speech by Mr Poul Nielson

European Commissioner for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian Crises: Challenges for the 21st Century

International Conference : Partners in Humanitarian Crises, U Thant International Conference Hall, Unioted Nations University

Tokyo, 25 January 2001

Thank you very much. It is really a great pleasure to be here. I am very happy about the co-operation behind the organising of this conference and I wish all the participants a very good conference and I am sure that it will leave a lasting important impression for everyone.

Globalisation is a dominant feature of our time and many talk about the global village. In my view we do not have a global village; in a village we would not accept to live with such a big divide between the rich and the poor as we have in this world. The low level of ODA flowing from the north to the south in this world shows that we do not have a global village, we have a world full of deep and dangerous problems.

There is a lot of talk about donor fatigue. I think one of the problems here is that many expectations have been unrealistic. Against that background it is important to clarify the fact that development co-operation and assistance has in fact worked. When we look at many of the childhood diseases in the world some of them are eradicated, others have much less of an effect that they used to. If we look around globally, large parts of the Third World are no longer considered to be developing countries. This was very different 25 years ago. At that time all of the Third World, for good reason, considered the poor, developing part of the world. A lot of progress has in fact been made.

But, of course, we have residual poverty in this world even if it is a fact that in absolute numbers we see an increase in people below the poverty line. But compared to the capacity of this world, I find it meaningful anyway to characterise poverty as a residual problem. I think it is necessary to have a more long-term view on development co-operation. The changes that are needed to combat poverty, the structural reforms, the time it takes to educate a generation all this should tell us that a long-term perspective is the only realistic one and this is the background against which we have to counter donor fatigue. Development is not an event, it is a process and maybe the media have to do some thinking in this perspective also. Also, a deeper commitment, a more qualitative partnership is needed between the two sides in development co-operation. This is where the way in which we do things becomes more and more important and I will come back with some comments on that.

Turning then to the ideology of north-south relations in the world, I would say that we are witnessing some sort of confrontation between the norms and values coming out of the big global UN conferences on the one hand and the big money dominating the global economic process of globalisation on the other. It is not new that we have a confrontation between greed and ethics in front of us. The answer is that has been highly meaningful, in fact essential for the survival of decency in this world that the big conferences Rio, Beijing, Cairo, Copenhagen have in fact produced a material of shared values that we have decided on and discussed globally. Without that we would not have an emerging governance, an emerging decency and some framework that we can relate to collectively.

Many people are sceptical of these conferences and their output and discount them as words only. That is true, but it is different to have words that we have discussed and agreed upon from just having words. It does show some real effort to create a basis of shared consensus. I would say when we look at this balance between big money and big conferences that without the big conferences we would have a lack of balance. We have moved from the Washington Consensus in terms of very often quite tough, insensitive economic philosophy which may be good for the market in a very narrow sense, but which from a societal point of view is definitely not enough. It is therefore highly meaningful that the UN Conferences have provided an input that creates another balance. And in fact, when we look at the policy now being pursued by the World Bank and the IMF, it is different from the old Washington Consensus. The short version of the philosophy of today fortunately can be expressed in the simple words, "Market Economy Yes. Market Society No." It takes more than the market economy to create a decent society; politics is here to stay.

The European Union is very much in the centre of this drive to give globalisation a human face. It reflects our own values, our aspirations and ambitions as to what direction development in this world should go. It is important to have a deeper and more ambitious dialogue to move this agenda forward globally. In relation to our host country, I would say that it is in fact part of our thinking vis-à-vis Japan, and part of our reasons for a closer relationship with the UN family, that we see these relations as important elements in our effort to push this agenda of "globalisation with a human face" forward.

Turning now to the humanitarian crises and the conflicts. It is definitely true to put in the way that it has been put for the title of this speech that these crises are the challenge of this century. Let me first say that conflict as such may not necessarily be the problem, it is the chaos, it is the violence that have to be singled-out as the real problem. Human progress normally does not take place without some conflict. There are always people and groups and interests that want to defend their position to avoid change. So to create improvement normally also means that you have to do something which looks like a conflict but it is how this is handled which of course is important. So the theme here is of course violent conflicts, warfare, a breakdown of civilisation and the normalcy of how people relate to each other.

There are a lot of analogies and discussion back and forth about the relationship what is cause, what is effect in this? and everybody is of course linking poverty to conflict. I think this is quite difficult to determine. The only safe conclusion is that we have to face both challenges at the same time. But poverty has many faces. Definitely the fight for access to resources if we look at the land ownership or access to land problem, this is really at the core of many conflicts. It looks often like an ethnic conflict; in Pacific island-states, is it an ethnic problem or is it a conflict because people move from one island to another so the very issue of whether or not it's acceptable in the new island that these others use the scarce land. Is this ethnic or is it a basic fight for resources? All this is of course even more dramatic and more of a problem against the background of global population pressure. This is why one of the important real elements in the effort of conflict prevention has to do with population policy. This is one of the biggest structural aspects of doing it right or doing it wrong. Birth control, family planning all these efforts are part of the solution, not part of the problem. This is why we see the work of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) as necessary elements in conflict prevention and these organisations and their work should be supported and we are of course going to do that. If it is necessary for others to fill the decency gap in view of recent decisions, we will do it.

Another clear case where we know that by doing this we are doing something meaningful on conflict prevention is the debt issue. This is why we should look at the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative as a real contribution to conflict prevention. In my view it is pretty clear that if we did not do what we are doing now, which is the minimum, these poor highly indebted poor countries would in all probability fall into new chaos and we are able to prevent it by carrying out what has been decided.

Among many failures the HIPC Initiative does stand out as something that actually works. It is also important to note in the discussion about sustaining the level of ODA in this world.

Another observation about the relations between poverty and not necessarily conflict, but crisis, is the strange paradox that contrary to what many people expect, the reality is that natural disasters claim many more victims and destroy relatively much more of societies in the poor part of the world compared with what happens in the rich countries. We normally think of our very sophisticated infrastructure as being very vulnerable. The reality is, however, that in El Salvador recently 50% of all water supply in the nation was destroyed because of the damage caused by the earthquake. The indirect effect of damaging the electricity supply, pipes etc. was so great because the quality of it is weaker in a poor country than the systems we have. The same was the case in Mozambique where the quality and strength of dykes and foundations for bridges was not as good as they would have been in a rich country, so the actual vulnerability the effect of the disaster became much, much bigger than the case would have been in our part of the world. So poverty has many consequences.

So how are we responding? I think we have learned a lot in recent years. In general, we are better organised, especially as to handling the short-term, immediate humanitarian response. We have learned a lot on the road from Rwanda to East Timor and it was an important learning experiment that we actually carried out the big evaluation in Rwanda. The whole community of humanitarian aid learned a lot from it and coming out from that was some consensus as to how to better organise our activities. We also shared the frustration looking at the situation in the camps after that terrible tragedy, looking at the short reach of the authority of the international community as to finishing the work in a meaningful way. We went all the way in the decision-making as far as the Chapter Seven decision in the UN Security Council to launch a humanitarian intervention, to create, by military means, corridors to enable the refugees to come back. You all know they made up their minds themselves; they started walking. At least the international community took that decision. We also in Bosnia carried out the supply of goods for the people there under military protection. So therein lies the division of labour between the purely humanitarian activities and the military component of trying to do what an international society ought to do. In recent years the two elements have come somewhat closer, but we are still very far from having a clearly-defined relationship between the two, reflecting the fact, in my view, that although everybody talks about an international society the truth is that we don't have one yet we are still trying to create one. This conference, as such, is a contribution and an effort in that direction.

Today we are frustrated in another crisis again. We have enormous problems in Chechnya. But helping each other in the humanitarian community to do as much as possible and never give up is absolutely essential. I would like to say here, that from the European Commission point of view, as a provider of funds for all this working through different partners NGOs, UN organisations an so on what we are trying to do in Chechnya, very much in co-operation with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Mrs. Ogata and I have been in very close contact over the years this case has been a good case to illustrate that we need each other and we sometimes have to cry on each others shoulders, but also giving each other the stamina and support to continue. This is quite important, and I hope that the public also recognises that this is taking place.

A low point from a moral, internationalist point of view as to giving UNHCR an ability to carry out its mandate was in fact the Kosovo crisis when people were coming south in Macedonia and the receiving country and government were not willing to give the UN organisation the role it deserved to play, and where the character of the situation was extremely problematic. It looked nice when NATO took care of the refugees, but for me, as I say, it was a low point because all the things that are needed to give the refugees their rights and some dignity, all this was more or less neglected. They were moved yes, they were saved yes, but this was not how to do it.

East Timor ending up there not to say something optimistic, but still I will maintain from a co-operation and management point of view in the international humanitarian aid community, what has been the case in East Timor has been quite well organised. Management-wise it is a success story. The UN has performed quite well. The donors have been reasonably reliable and predictable and the humanitarian phase is now more or less over. We still have the remaining refugee problem with the people from West Timor in the camps, but we are now moving into the next phase of rehabilitation and the effort to launch the new nation. It is important to note that something does work and I will maintain that over these years, with all the problems and frustrations, the co-operation and clarity of assigning tasks has, in fact, improved. This is also important to tell our public. It is not just chaotic; these organisations know better than ever who is doing what and how they relate to each other.

What we cannot do is create order and stability. We do not have a magic touch to create emerging governance if there isn't an agreed framework for what is going to happen next in these post-conflict cases. I discussed this with President Mandela a few years ago. He was approached and asked to demonstrate his magic healing talent in so many cases, some of which were absolutely impossible. And I asked him how he decides when to say yes or no, to engage yourself and to invest your prestige in these cases. And he said that he had learned already that if they do not share a framework of some understanding, he had better to stay away. The problem is for the donors, for the so-called international society, this is not an option. We do not know much about what is happening now in Congo, yet we cannot stay away. This is very frustrating.

My view here is that the level of ODA is important. We need patience and stamina. The problem is often a lack of proportionality. What needs to be done is so much bigger that the means we have at hand, so the conclusion here is that more ODA is part of the solution and less ODA is part of the problem. The European Union is present everywhere. We are a big donor. We are working in all developing countries. Our system the way in which we do things enables us to be present and to have money available in these post-conflict situations, where many other donors have very great difficulty in mobilising money and where the risk is quite big almost nothing works, it is difficult to do things this is the core of the discussion of the transition gap, another area where Mrs. Ogata and I have worked closely together in these last two years. Our conclusion is a pragmatic, case-by-case effort, and we are ready to play an active part in taking up a responsibility to take the lead in some of these cases and in all of them to be present, providing support.

So the emerging conclusion of this is that we need to press on with the strengthening of strategic partnerships. For the EU, moving closer to the UN is part of this we find it essential to do it. We are fortunate, and this is the case for all donors, that today we actually have a better basis than ever for improved quality in what we are doing. We have a global consensus discussed in the development assistance committee in OECD. We are in agreement with the basic policy orientation of the World Bank and the IMF. We have a new balance where social sensitivity is given more emphasis than 10 years ago, so we can share more easily the discussion of what to do. This is also important for national decisions on ODA. It is much better to argue for doing this at a high, consistent, continued level, when it is possible to refer to a situation internationally. We have ourselves in the European Union, in what the Commission is responsible for doing, a lot has to do with reforming and making the delivery of our assistance more efficient and more speedy. We are changing to improve. For us, like other donors, it is important that we have this shared basis of how to do things to relate to, so that it is a good opportunity and a good background also to strengthening the partnerships.

I have discussed with the Government of Japan how to strengthen the development co-operation partnership between the EU and Japan and the response is very positive. We are going to do this and at the same time contributing to overall donor co-ordination. So we may see some optimistic signs here and there and the new element we are trying to create in all this is to make the effort of capacity building into something different and bigger than what it has been up to now. Reflecting an understanding and a commitment to the fact that good development co-operation is long-term development co-operation, we are going to make capacity building hard-core, big money development co-operation. This is needed. It will take time, but learning from what we have done in the last 10 years should also mean that we have the courage and the self-confidence to keep doing things and bigger and better is a nice way of doing it.

Thank you.

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