UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is proficient at raising money from governments in times of emergency, but "very disappointing" in its ability to respond to the actual disaster, according to an independent review commissioned by the British government.
"There is rarely a vision beyond fundraising, and rarely an organizing narrative that draws together the disparate capacities," says the 61-page report, released Monday. "What is needed is a complete overhaul of strategic and operational leadership in the UN."
The study highlights shortfalls that are likely to also raise alarm bells among Canadian politicians and others focused on the Ottawa's contributions to UN humanitarian efforts.
It was led by Paddy Ashdown, former leader of Britain's Liberal-Democrats, who also served as UN high representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Regrettably, the leadership, management and co-ordination of the international community's efforts have not risen even to the challenges we currently face." Ashdown says in the foreword to his Humanitarian Emergency Response Review. "Unless we radically improve the quality of the leadership of the international effort in humanitarian crises, we will not succeed in dealing with what is ahead."
The study drew its conclusions after studying responses to a series of recent humanitarian disasters, including flooding in Pakistan, the earthquake in Haiti, and famine in Niger.
It says governments have come to look at the UN as the "only legitimate authority" in situations where a government of an affected country is unable to mount an effective humanitarian response.
But it adds: "In all but one of the case studies for this review, UN leadership was poor. This was especially true in the larger disasters. It is true at a strategic level and at an operational level. It is true across the international system, and in individual crises."
The report praises the World Food Program — to which Canada is the world's third-biggest contributor after the United States and the European Commission — for "rapidly delivering food to seven million people in flood-hit Pakistan." It also says UNICEF, the children's agency, was efficient in supplying infant food throughout Niger.
But it highlights the UN's "inability to treat and contain" the cholera outbreak in Haiti last year. More widely, it hints at unhealthy competition between the UN agencies by saying they "need to work more collegially."
Britain's 10-month-old Conservative-led coalition government called for the study to review how Britain responds to humanitarian emergencies.
A significant part of the report focused on the UN because the organization and its agencies are among the world's biggest deliverers of emergency help.
Ashdown led a task force of humanitarian experts from inside and outside government who began their study six months after the Haiti earthquake at the beginning of 2010.
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