Helen Clark: Speech at High-Level Event on “Building a New Vision to Address Long-term and Recurrent Humanitarian Crisis”

Jul 14, 2015

I thank the UK Government and the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing for convening this discussion.

Humanitarian relief budgets are under tremendous strain. New and intractable conflicts, political instability leading to displacement of peoples, volatile markets, citizen insecurity, and more frequent extreme weather events have lifted demand for humanitarian support to new heights.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa reminds us of the deep seated vulnerabilities which can persist in countries years after conflict and political upheaval subside. The devastation of the disasters which recently struck Nepal, Vanuatu and Tuvalu, and the Philippines with super Typhoon Haiyan are painful reminders that poor communities and people are the most vulnerable when disasters strike. From 1970 to 2008, over 95 per cent of disaster-related deaths occurred in developing countries. Our changing climate exacerbates these vulnerabilities.

Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that humanitarian spending has tripled in the last ten years - yet still can’t keep pace with the growing needs.
Thus, this is the time to be asking some more fundamental questions. Humanitarian needs need not be ever-increasing. How could we collectively act to stem the tide and reverse this current trends?

This is intrinsically a development question. Humanitarian needs will shrink when and where we succeed in achieving long-term sustainable development. Peace and stability is part of that.

It’s noteworthy that the emerging global development agenda recognizes the interrelationship between peace and development. Proposed SDG 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies, with access to justice for all, and inclusive and effective institutions at all levels. If that goal were universally achieved, the conflicts we see destroying lives and hopes and driving so many desperate and dangerous journeys to other lands could become a thing of the past.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda is taking the right steps in its references to financing to avert crises. It calls for underlying vulnerabilities to be addressed, for risk reduction to be a priority, and for coherence of financing when tackling crises.

Let me suggest five ways in which we could move such an agenda forward.

1. Think and act consistently in more integrated ways across the humanitarian and development silos – as I suggest we are now doing in response to the Syrian crisis with the integrated Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan.
The Government of Switzerland and UNDP recently brought together twenty experts to discuss issues around financing risk and resilience. Risks of disaster, conflict and disease outbreaks are the norm, not the exception; these risks need to be understood, planned for, and financed.

2. If development isn’t risk-informed, it isn’t sustainable development.
UNDP carried that simple message to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Sendai. It is a basic premise of all our work. Risks must be identified, addressed, planned for, and financed long-before the first shovel hits the ground or the first brick is laid.

Integrating risk reduction into development not only improves development practice, but also encourages a culture of resilience building. ‘Risk-pricing’, the extra investment needed to ensure risk-informed development, is essential for this, as is the mainstreaming of risk into the very workings of society, across all sectors and at all levels.

For every US$100 spent on development aid, just forty cents is estimated to go into protecting that development from disaster . With trillions to be spent on infrastructure between now and 2030 it’s vital to build resilience into development.

3. Use crisis as an opportunity.
The transition out of crisis as a unique opportunity to address underlying vulnerabilities. Yet, such work remains severely underfunded. Rather, conflict and disaster affected countries get trapped in a cycle of humanitarian appeals and weak recovery. Countries need adequate resources for recovery at the earliest point to secure their long-term transition out of crisis.

4. Much of the world’s humanitarian need is driven by conflict, with on average of eight out of every ten humanitarian dollars spent per year being spent in conflict-affected contexts . We need to get serious about what it takes to help countries in conflict achieve peace and development and to help countries which are candidates for conflict to avoid it. Hard as it is, complex as it is, we need more financing for building the foundations of peace and stability, good governance, and inclusive and sustainable development in these most challenging of contexts.
5. We need to work beyond the divides and silos created by existing systems. Emergency response must continue to be a government responsibility backed by international support where needed. All financing – development and humanitarian, international and national, public and private – must work together to jointly address risks and vulnerability.

In conclusion, and in essence, resilience must be at the center of a systematic and joined up approach. Sustainable development will remain elusive, and humanitarian costs will continue to grow, as long as we continue to ignore the risks around us. We cannot continue to plan business as usual in development – these are not normal times. We must acknowledge the realities of the world we live in, and look at how we can invest earlier, proactively, and pre-emptively to reduce the risks of disaster and conflict. It we are prepared to do that, then there’s a chance of achieving sustainable development.

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