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"Securing our common future": On the occasion of the "Golden Spear" High Level Seminar
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Honourable Vice President, Prof. George Saitoti,

Honourable Ministers,

General Joseph Kibwana, Chief of General Staff,

General Tommy R. Franks, Commander in Chief, Central Command,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations, I am honoured to be the keynote speaker for this Second Golden Spear high-level meeting on humanitarian crises and natural disasters whose theme is consultation and co-operation: preventing crises and managing response. This forum is of the utmost importance given the growing threat to human security and the urgent need to strengthen co-operation and mutual support among Governments in the Eastern Africa Region. At the onset, let me commend the initiators and organisers of this forum which have enabled leaders to discuss strategic issues of mutual interest in the region.

The end of the cold war ushered in a new age of détente, liberalisation and democratic government. However this new political landscape has introduced a new set of risks. Certainties that were once taken for granted in a bi-polar world have dissolved, revealing a host of latent political, economic, social and environmental challenges. Most of today's wars are fought within rather than between states. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number and severity of natural and human made disasters.

These threats to peace and security demand innovative policy responses and political decision-making. They require a regional strategy and framework for managing humanitarian crises to pursue countries mutual interest, which this symposium will discuss.

We are all aware that disasters undermine development efforts and erode investments. They are the most insidious enemy to development efforts and people’s hard work. The Golden Spear initiative has recognised the potential that lies in unity- via a regional approach. Disaster prevention and mitigation’s impact is best tackled through regional co-operation.

The starting-off point in this discussion is to forge a common understanding of "Crises" or "Disaster" as a basis for adopting a framework for analysis, and if I may borrow from the military, "a plan of attack" to reduce vulnerability to humanitarian disasters that have plagued this region.

Against this background, let me therefore propose a working definition. What is a disaster, and a humanitarian one at that? While different agencies and authorities have adopted various definitions, I would like to submit that a disaster is:

"the culmination or eruption of life threatening processes into events whose destructive forces over-power or overwhelm the coping mechanisms of a given socio-economic unit, such as a family, community, city, nation or region."

It is a situation where a problem reaches a magnitude that can no longer be handled by local means, and outside assistance becomes necessary to mitigate the adverse effects and bring a situation under control.

If this definition is accepted, then we are in agreement that crises and disasters are not events but processes. We are therefore dealing with dynamics and not statics. Disaster preparedness, mitigation and management then become a long a development undertaking.

It is interesting to note that this approach is not new. In a world that had just seen the conflagrations of the Second World War, the founders of the United Nations attempted to address this issue by giving equal weight to the problems of national security and the security of people. In 1945, the then US Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius reported to his government on the results of the conference in San Francisco which established the United Nations:

"The battle of peace has to be fought on two fronts. The first is the security front where victory spells freedom from fear. The second is the economic and social front where victory means freedom from want. Only victory on both fronts can assure the world of an enduring peace. No provisions that can be written into the Charter will enable the Security Council to make the world secure from war if men and women have no security in their homes and their jobs."

As the Executive Director of Habitat, I am particularly concerned about the implications of these two freedoms, freedom from fear and freedom from want, on the state of our human settlements. Today, more than ever before, we are confronted by the challenge of protecting the people in our towns and cities from the detrimental effects of natural disasters and human conflicts.

Therefore, in the next few minutes I would like to reflect upon how regional military co-operation can safeguard national development objectives against growing threats and vulnerability in our region.

Today, of the 45 countries in Africa where the United Nations operates, 18 are threatened by civil strife, and 11 are experiencing some form of political crisis. Over half of the world’s on-going conflicts are found in Africa, most are conducted by irregular forces using readily available small arms and light weapons. In 1999 there were over 3 million refugees or asylum seekers, and 10 million internally displaced persons. The attention to their humanitarian needs places a heavy burden n countries and host communities. The chronic level of instability in several countries has resulted in the destruction of infrastructure, social structures and economies.

What is more distressing is that, in recent conflicts, it is ordinary civilians, women and children who suffer the most. Whereas n the First and Second World War, civilians accounted for 10 percent of casualties, in Mozambique, 95 percent of casualties were inflicted on civilians.

At the same time, in the 1990s, over a 100 million Africans have suffered from the effects of close 800 natural disasters. In human terms, the African continent was the second most affected of all regions after Asia. During this period, droughts, heavy rains and floods, landslides, windstorms, forest fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters resulted in losses surpassing US$2,5 billion dollars. Of particular concern is the frequent and almost endemic occurrence of droughts and flooding. In search of dwindling natural resources, groups all too often end-up in deadly conflicts with their neighbours. Conflict over scarce resources is likely to increase. And with most experts predicting that rapid deforestation accompanied by increasing carbon dioxide emissions will lead to more frequent natural disasters, the future is far from promising.

The effects of natural disasters are further compounded by the problems of development. Most African countries do not have adequate capacity to manage the rapid changes brought about by industrialisation. It is remarkable to note that in Africa accidents and industrial disasters are exacting a terrible toll. Between 1997 and 1999, Egypt alone has had over 600 people affected by mass transport accidents and over 2000 people by industrial accidents. Shipping and ferry accidents are on the increase threatening passenger lives and delicate eco-systems. The trend is clear, these types of accidents and disasters indicate how vulnerable the countries in this region are to a growing number of risks.

Vulnerability to disasters is determined by the ability of people to make sustainable choices. In the developed world, some governments have been able to design pre-emptive strategies to mitigate the effects of disasters.

However, it is no accident that 90% of victims of natural disasters are from developing countries. Poverty results in a lack of choices, In Africa, which has the highest rate of urbanisation in the world, people are often forced to build their shelter within informal settlements located in hazardous locations. In these circumstances, hazards lead to disasters that are catastrophic.

Low incomes levels make full recovery from a crisis impossible, leaving affected communities even more vulnerable,Often the root cause of this situation is weak structures of governance, limited resources, and insufficient empowerment of communities and cities to maximize their capacity for preparedness and response.

Today, thanks to international efforts such as the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, there is a growing awareness that what used to be called "natural" disasters are indeed anything but natural. They are now more properly seen as much societal as physical events.

How much progress has been made in the last few years? Despite innumerable technological, medical and social advances, our world is more vulnerable than ever before. Yet most of our governments still lack coherent policies, as well as the necessary legal and institutional frameworks to respond to disasters and to mitigate their impact. In the worst cases, there has been a severe lack of coordination between central government and local authorities.

Many cities and towns lack the resources and infrastructure for rapid response. Few if any have contingency plans or early warning systems that reach local authorities and communities before disaster strikes.

But we are far from helpless. There are many new technologies and proven mechanisms for integrating disaster management into development plans. But these tools have not been disseminated widely. Yet as recent earthquakes and the 1999 bomb blast in Nairobi demonstrated, it is important to provide communities with these strategies, especially if you consider the fact that in most disasters it is ordinary people who are the first to respond.

While the root causes of insecurity to natural disasters and conflict differ in many cases, the solution is a common one. People and their communities must be at the centre of all efforts to reduce national risk and vulnerability. Human security is no longer simply a defensive concept, but rather it must be integrative. It recognises that security is not simply the concern of a District Commissioner, soldier or police officer, but equally, a mason, community leader and local authority planning officer. It calls for practical, community-based risk identification, early warning mechanisms and mitigation plans that are integrated into the overall development of an area. In short it is about implementing good governance in our communities, towns and cities.

This is why the military has a key role to play in disaster management.

Already in many countries, the military is the backbone of civil defence, putting its logistical and organizational services at the forefront of humanitarian response and relief efforts. Often, the military are called upon to support the police in violence and crime control.

While this is not, and should not be, their task, their use during civil emergencies, in a fully democratic context, is a resource that can strengthen good civil governance.

We at the United Nations strive to provide our national partners with tools, systems and knowledge to tackle the root causes of insecurity. For us, this is about implementing good governance in our communities, towns and cities. But we also work at providing more direct technical support on issues of vulnerability reduction, violence prevention and mitigation, and recovery after disasters.

Tools and technical assistance are readily available. But like any tool, countries and governments must commit themselves to their application.

For example, the government of Kenya has been collaborating with the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to establish a National Disaster Management Programme. This builds upon the strengths of the respected drought-monitoring network. But this is only a first step, it has to be followed by the necessary legal and institutional reform accompanied by the creation of effective operational mechanisms on the ground.

It is precisely this type of integrated initiative which can and should be supported by Golden Spear. This forum can help promote change. It can help improve disaster management policies at the regional level and to create a process of learning through mutual support and exchanges.

But most importantly, Golden Spear can help establish structures and processes that make a reality of such policies in this region.

The recent emergence in Africa of specific institutional mechanisms within the IGAD, ECOWAS and SADC to address conflict resolution and promote regional co-operation in disaster management is an important development. Regional groups of states have recognised that even national conflicts or disasters are best tackled in common. Experience has shown that to be effective the solutions have to come from within the region. Neighbouring countries have a vested interest in resolving potential crises.

Golden Spear is well suited to play a leading role in this area. It is an ideal forum to engage in the development of disaster management policy and to promote the development and exchange of regional best practices and knowledge. Golden Spear is also well placed to convene meetings of regional stakeholders in order to implement regional exercises and capacity building activities. This would help establish policies and regional co-operation leading to operational readiness.

Today’s meeting can be a defining moment in furthering these processes of regional co-operation.

Your deliberations can provide an entry point into a long over-due due commitment to strengthen regional forms of mutual support and exchange on security, humanitarian and disaster response.

In the past, the United Nations capacity to respond in humanitarian crises was heavily criticised, and likened to a volunteer fire brigade. But as Secretary-General Koffi Annan pointed out, this assessment is far too generous. In fact, when a fire begins to burn somewhere in the world, the UN has first to convene a meeting to seek donations for fire-trucks, equipment and, even volunteer fire-fighters.

Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that so many bush fires have grown into uncontrollable infernos. Strengthened national and regional measures are required if future calamities are to be prevented. The United Nations, and my agency, is ready to collaborate with you in this endeavour.

In closing, I would like to stress once again my conviction that peace, safety and security - national, regional and international - are only possible if there is freedom from want and freedom from fear in our human settlements.

Distinguished delegates, this morning I have tried to argue that intrinsic to human security is human responsibility. The challenge before us is to create a common culture of prevention and preparedness for the region as a whole.

Thank you for your attention.

 
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