Tuesday, 29 March 2011

UK report attacks UN handling of humanitarian crises

By Elizabeth Piper | Reuters

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LONDON (Reuters) - The United Nations' handling of humanitarian emergencies has been "very disappointing" and its leadership in that area should be overhauled, a British government-commissioned report said on Monday.

"What is needed is a complete overhaul of strategic and operational leadership in the U.N.," said the report by British politician Paddy Ashdown.

Ashdown, a former U.N. representative for Bosnia, carried out a six-month review of Britain's response to humanitarian emergencies at the request of the 10-month-old coalition government.

His report accused the United Nations of rarely having a vision beyond fund-raising and said it needed to set out, at the highest level, the humanitarian challenges ahead and how it planned to deal with them.

The world body also needed to develop a group of capable humanitarian response leaders, the report said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in a series of major disasters in the last 15 months, including the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the Pakistan floods and the Haiti earthquake.

Ashdown said the scale, frequency and severity of disasters were predicted to grow.

"Credible estimates suggest that due to global warming and increasing population density, the number of people affected by these rapid onset emergencies could double in the next decade," Ashdown said at an event to launch the report.

"We are ... caught in a race between the growing size of the humanitarian challenge and our ability to cope. It is, bluntly, not a race we think we are currently winning," he said.

The British government, the second-largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor after the United States, needed to devise new ways to meet bigger challenges, he said.

Britain spent about 528 million pounds ($846 million) on humanitarian assistance in the 2009/10 fiscal year, channelling just over half of it through U.N. agencies.

Ashdown said the British government should use science, where possible, to try to anticipate and prepare for future disasters caused by hurricanes, droughts and earthquakes.

Britain should help poor countries prepare for disasters, for example by building houses and hospitals that could withstand earthquakes or schools that double as cyclone shelters, the report said.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, who asked Ashdown to carry out the report, said the government would give its response in about six weeks.

(editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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