UN General Assembly: 4 things you need to know

23 September, 2013
Each year during the UN General Assembly, OCHA and its partners highlight key areas of humanitarian concern, taking the opportunity to advocate on behalf of people in crisis for solutions and support. Credit: UN
Each year during the UN General Assembly, OCHA and its partners highlight key areas of humanitarian concern, taking the opportunity to advocate on behalf of people in crisis for solutions and support. Credit: UN

Dozens of heads of state along with the UN Secretary-General, Government Ministers, leaders of UN agencies and civil society and other dignitaries are gathering in New York for the 68th Session of the United Nation’s General Assembly. The annual event – a series of meetings starting on 24 September and stretching over the better part of two weeks – will see Member States discuss and debate a range of political, economic and security-related issues.

Each year, OCHA and its partners take the opportunity to highlight key areas of humanitarian concern, and to advocate on behalf of people in crisis for solutions and support.

Here are four key humanitarian issues that OCHA will be focusing on during the 2013 General Assembly.

1. The humanitarian crisis in Syria must not be overshadowed by the political debate. The conflict in Syria and the use of chemical weapons are likely to continue to dominate discussions over the coming days. Our hope is that this does not detract attention from the country’s severe humanitarian crisis. Some 7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian support, with more than 2 million having fled the country.

UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos has issued similar calls throughout the crisis (including in an opinion piece published at the beginning of September, at the re-launch of the Syria humanitarian appeal in June, and in a statement to the UN Security Coucil in April). On Tuesday 24 September, she will be taking part in a UK-organized High-Level Meeting on Syria.

“At the moment we are talking about the whole chemical weapons issue, it is important that that is addressed (and) it is important that we maintain the pressure to get a political solution,” said Ms Amos, in an interview that will be published later today. “But (the) humanitarian issues and the human rights abuses that are really spiralling out of control inside Syria – we need our political leaders to address those as well.”

2. We will urge Member States to do what they can to reverse the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Every single person in CAR has been affected by their country’s descent into insecurity, violence and despair. Since December 2012, 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and a further 60,000 have left the country all together.

Persistent insecurity has severely hampered the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those most in need. Earlier this month, two aid workers with the French NGO ACTED were killed north of the capital of Bangui.

On Wednesday 25 September, Ms. Amos and Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, will chair a High-Level Event that will focus on the situation in CAR. Ms. Amos and Ms. Georgieva visited CAR earlier this year.

“We were both shocked by what we saw but felt that there was a very real opportunity (…) for the international community to really make a difference,” said Ms. Amos. “If they would just focus on the Central African Republic and think about the resources required – the support required to begin to build the institutions in the country – and to give much needed financial support to the many organizations operating on the ground.”

“So this meeting (will) I hope be an opportunity for that to happen.”

3. We will celebrate a new generation of African Humanitarian Champions. Later on Wednesday 25, OCHA will co-host an event with the African Union to celebrate African Humanitarian Champions. The event will highlight the rise of a new approach towards humanitarian intervention in Africa – an approach driven by African governments and civil society, that places increased emphasis on building resilience, rather than addressing needs in the short term.

The event will be an opportunity for African governments and private sector representatives to show how they are addressing humanitarian needs, and to convey the changing narrative about Africa’s response to humanitarian situations.

4. We will emphasize that building resilience should be at the heart of our support to the countries of the Sahel. People in the Sahel – a region that stretches across nine Saharan countries – are some of the most vulnerable people in the world today. They face food insecurity and malnutrition, health crises, natural disasters and, increasingly, insecurity and violence.

On Thursday 26 September the Secretary-General will convene a meeting on the Sahel, which is expected to endorse a new, integrated strategy for the region. One of the three ‘pillars’ of this new strategy is Resilience – the idea that humanitarian and developments efforts should focus on addressing the chronic and structural causes of vulnerability. This approach is already at the heart of much of the work of humanitarian agencies in the Sahel.

Ahead of the event, we will feature an interview with Robert Piper, the regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.

Follow the General Assembly live on UN Web TV, and follow OCHA on Twitter @UNOCHA for updates.

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