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UN Economic and Social Council opens annual humanitarian affairs segment

09 Jun 2020


Credit: OCHA/Iason Athanasiadis

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) formally opened its annual Humanitarian Affairs Segment today with a discussion about the humanitarian landscape considering the impacts of COVID-19, together with global trends and emerging challenges.

Speaking at the opening of the virtual event, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock emphasized that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian system was already preparing for unprecedented levels of humanitarian need in 2020, driven by prolonged conflict, the impacts of climate change, and the combination of a global economic slowdown and rising indebtedness. These humanitarian threats are now being compounded by COVID-19. 

“This pandemic is unlike anything we have dealt with in our lifetime. Extraordinary measures are needed. Our response must be proportionate to the scale of the problem we face,” Mr. Lowcock said.

The humanitarian chief underscored that the discussions over the coming days as part of the Humanitarian Affairs Segment will provide an opportunity to strengthen the international community’s resolve to fight the virus and find solutions that will help in that endeavour.

“The stakes have never been higher – we will either win this battle together, or not at all,” the Under-Secretary-General said.

The theme for this year’s Humanitarian Affairs Segment is “Reinforcing humanitarian assistance in the context of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations: taking action for people-centred solutions, strengthening effectiveness, respecting international humanitarian law and promoting the humanitarian principles”.


Keynote address by UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Today’s events also included a high-level panel in the morning on addressing the increasing complexity of health challenges in humanitarian contexts. The panel focused on critical next steps needed to better respond to increasing needs driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing the evolving landscaped marked in recent years by disease outbreaks and epidemics often in conflict settings.

Panellists discussed how international organizations are coping with new challenges identifying emerging needs, access challenges and delivering by remote. The event was moderated by Mr. Lowcock, who noted in opening remarks that in the face of the unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19, humanitarian organizations and Governments are adapting and innovating so that they can stay and deliver ongoing services and scale up new ones wherever feasible.

A high-level panel in the afternoon focused on combatting and preventing sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises.

The Humanitarian Affairs Segment launched on Monday, 8 June with a high-level event on the multidimensional and interconnected challenges in the Central Sahel region.

This year’s formal sessions of the segment are taking place virtually from 9 to 11 June, and will be broadcast live on UN WebTV. Side events are taking place until 12 June.

Since 1998, the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment has been an essential platform for discussing the activities and issues related to strengthening the coordination of the humanitarian assistance of the UN. The segment provides a key opportunity for Member States, the UN system, development organizations, the private sector and other humanitarian partners to discuss emerging and pressing humanitarian issues.

More information is available on a dedicated page on the Humanitarian Affairs Segment.