UK report attacks UN handling of humanitarian crises

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 yesterday.

“What is needed is a complete overhaul of strategic and operational leadership in the UN,” said the report by British politician Paddy Ashdown.

Ashdown, a former UN 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.

“Although the UN has the mandate to lead, its performance has been very disappointing overall,” Ashdown said.

In New York, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Stephanie Bunker, said the department was studying the report. The current head of OCHA, Valerie Amos, is British, as was her predecessor up to last August, John Holmes.
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.

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