UN Seeks More Focus, Support on Local, National Disaster Prevention Initiatives

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos during the ministerial mini-summit on humanitarian response in the Horn of Africa on September 24, 2011. Photo by: Dan DeLorenzo / OCHA

The international community should invest more in disaster risk-reduction initiatives at the national and local levels in addition to working to improve and make the global emergency response system more flexible, a senior U.N. official said at the launch of a new initiative focused on ending extreme hunger.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, stressed at the Sept. 27 minisummit of the non-governmental organization-led campaign that the famine and drought in East Africa should serve as a “wake-up call” to how a crisis can unfold and spread if warning signs are ignored.

“As Oxfam, Save the Children, ONE and others rightly point out in this charter, all the warning signs were there in the Horn of Africa two years ago but the warnings were not acted on,” Wahlstrom said. “The result is that more lives will be lost and more money will be spent because there was little or no support to timely and low-cost measures that would have reduced the risk of drought turning into a famine.”

The campaign, dubbed “Never Again: A Charter to End Extreme Hunger,” urges the international community to work toward five urgent actions: fix the flaws of the international emergency response system, support local food production, make available food more affordable, provide social protection for the world’s poorest, and end conflict and violence.

The launch of the campaign comes as local officials in Kenya report that flash floods in the country’s northwestern region are hampering humanitarian operations there. The floods have damaged roads and other infrastructure, preventing aid agencies from reaching drought-hit pastoralists in the region, local officials said, according to IRIN News.

The U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also voiced concern that more people in Kenya would face hunger and food security issues when the country’s anticipated rainy season begins this October.

Meanwhile, some 70 international aid organizations engaged in relief work in East Africa met Sept. 27 to discuss future programs beyond emergency aid work in Somalia and its neighboring countries. Members of The Humanitarian Forum and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation who attended the meeting discussed ways to better coordinate their efforts within Somalia. They also talked about the need to invest in civil society and local NGOs, as well to tap the diaspora and private sector to help East Africa get back on its feet. Priorities for the transition from relief work to development were also tackled.

But even as proposals on longer-term support for East Africa are brought to the table, relief agencies, and the private sector, continue to step up their emergency relief programs for countries in the region. International NGO AmeriCares, for instance, has shipped 34,000 pounds of nutritional supplement to the Somalian capital city. South Korea’s flagship airlines, Korean Air, has offered its services to help the World Food Program transport aid to East Africa.

The U.N. Development Program, for its part, announced details of a charity football match that aims to raise funds for relief efforts in the region. The match, to be held Dec. 13, will feature a team of football superstars led by Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane against Germany’s Hamburger Sport-Verein football club.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.