Disaster Response

Archbishop at UN calls for "steady commitment" to disaster relief


In a Monday speech to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the head of the Holy See's mission to the United Nations, addressed the General Assembly on the topic of responding to disasters. Notable among his proposals were enrolling the help of faith-based organizations and his mention of the need for long-term aid.

He noted at the outset his sincere condolences to the people and the government of Bangladesh in the wake of the recent cyclone that killed thousands and displaced millions.

The relief workers who risked their lives in responding to such disaster areas merited special assistance, he said.

"It is for the safety of these humanitarian workers and for the welfare of the suffering people they assist that we must work for a truly effective, coordinated, and humane disaster response system," he stated.

Disaster relief does not include only natural disasters, the archbishop said, but also includes the man-made disasters of armed conflicts.

"Armed conflicts have devastated societies in many places, taken lives, ruined economies, set back development and frustrated efforts to restore peace," the archbishop said.  He insisted that all parties involved in armed conflicts must fully comply with the rules and principles of international law in the protection of humanitarian personnel.  He repeated the obligation of all parties in a conflict to allow aid workers full access to those in need of assistance and to guarantee civilians and all victims of armed conflicts safe and unhampered access to humanitarian aid.

He saw the United Nations' position as key in guaranteeing international law and humanitarian response in disasters.  The United Nations, he thought, could enhance collaboration among humanitarian organizations to more effectively respond to crises.

Archbishop Migliore noted UN member states' increased focus on disaster prevention and risk reduction. The best way to respond to disasters is through knowledgeable and effective local agents to respond to emergency situations and reduce their long-term costs and consequences, he explained. In particular he endorsed local civic and faith-based organizations as highly effective in disaster response, and called on all governments to engage, support, and protect such groups.

While grateful for the outpourings of goodwill and international solidarity that news coverage of disasters provides, Archbishop Migliore insisted that long-term recovery requires the continued interest and support of the international community.  Disaster relief is very problematic when international attention weakens, and resources are directed to other priorities.

He said this weakened attention was very costly, "especially in post-conflict situations in which the probability of a relapse to violence is very high, or in places where a truly catastrophic natural disaster wiped out the economic base of entire communities."  

"A steady commitment is necessary if sustainable and long-term recovery system of peoples and regions affected is to be achieved," he declared.

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