Remarks by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council, at the ECOSOC General Debate, Humanitarian Affairs Segment, June 25, 2014

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
June 25, 2014


Thank you, Mr. President,

The United States welcomes the Secretary-General’s report on “Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations.” We share his alarm over the rising scale and complexity of major humanitarian crises around the world – the record-breaking number of internally displaced persons, dramatic increase in number of refugees, and a scale of needs that seems to increase by the day. At no time has it been more vital to ensure that Member States, UN organizations, and other actors coordinate, collaborate, and unite around effective humanitarian response. We continue to strongly support the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Transformative Agenda, and we agree that the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit is an important opportunity to strengthen partnerships and improve collective humanitarian action and delivery to those most desperately in need.

We are pleased that in 2013 the humanitarian community intensified efforts to improve needs assessments, analysis and strategic planning to strengthen humanitarian response. We underscore the need further to improve data quality, including disaggregation that helps us understand distinct needs, vulnerabilities, and coping capacities, and we urge all humanitarian actors to engage in joint needs assessments and to share information regularly. We also support the Secretary-General’s call for enhanced coordination between humanitarian and development actors, including in planning and risk assessment. We further strongly support efforts underway to more systematically engage local and national partners and people affected by crises. We particularly want to reinforce the importance of the Rights up Front Action Plan, and underscore our own commitment to seeing the United Nations strengthen actions to protect all people from serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

One element of protection includes recognizing that displacement can lead to loss of personal documentation, which can hinder access to key services and even result in statelessness, and we encourage Member States to ensure civil registration and documentation for persons affected by humanitarian emergencies.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s recommendations, we strongly agree with the focus on strengthening efforts to ensure better protection, assistance, and development strategies for internally displaced persons, including through working together to strengthen the implementation of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs.

As we know all too well, rates of sexual assault and gender based violence often spike in the wake of a humanitarian emergency. It is crucial to prioritize access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. These health services, along with mental health care, are essential for survivors to be able to rebuild their lives, families, and communities in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.

Innovation will also be critical to effective humanitarian response and we should always be seeking the best “business model” to deliver to those in need. In this regard, we note that in 2012 approximately 80 percent of the estimated 28.8 million people internally displaced due to conflict and violence lived in urban and non-camp settings but were less likely to receive assistance than those individuals residing in camps and informal settlements. The same is true for refugees. We urge the UN and other humanitarian actors to translate into practice key principles of delivering assistance in non-camp settings. This includes facilitating access to existing educational and health services rather than establishing parallel schools and clinics. Advancing these practices will also help bridge the relief-to-development divide and make responses more sustainable by ensuring that a wider range of development and other actors are involved from the very start.

Humanitarian access obviously remains among the toughest challenges, the absence of which can block timely response to those most in need. We remain deeply concerned about humanitarian access in many places, including the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, and South Sudan, and call on all parties to allow rapid, full, and unhindered humanitarian access to all populations in need of assistance.

Finally, we are acutely aware of the risks that humanitarian staff and medical personnel take each day to reach those in need of assistance. We condemn the killing of humanitarian aid workers and urge that all parties endeavor to reverse trends that resulted in more aid workers being killed in 2013 than in previous years. Their life-saving work is vital, they are on the front lines of advancing our common humanity, and we owe them and the millions in need of effective humanitarian response nothing less than our full adherence to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Thank you very much.


PRN: 2014/148