“Humanitarian Disasters and World Peace”
1. I have chosen to speak on the subject of humanitarian disasters and their impact on world peace this evening. I have chosen this topic for three main reasons. First, because the scale of the problem is unprecedented and it is growing increasingly grave. Second, because our efforts to address the challenges comprehensively are seriously inadequate. And therefore third, because we need to meet the requirements more adequately and confront the issues more squarely.
2. I wish to emphasise at the outset that I do not speak for the government of Malaysia. I speak only as a concerned citizen of the world who desires peace and well-being for all fellow citizens wherever they may be, regardless of their nationality, race, religion or political persuasion. As a citizen of the world, permit me to be candid.
3. Humanitarian disasters are not a recent phenomenon. Whether of natural causes or man-made, they have devastated humankind and the environment since the dawn of history. Wars, conflicts, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, famines and pestilences have afflicted nations and communities from time memorial.
4. World-wide over 130 million people are presently in need of humanitarian assistance. The number is growing rapidly. The Indo-Pacific region in particular is prone to natural disasters of great magnitude. In the last 20 years alone weather-related disasters affected over 2,274 million people in China, 805 million in India, 131 million in Bangladesh and 130 million in the Philippines. The population in other leading countries that were affected include 76 million people in Thailand, 55 million in Pakistan and 44 million in Vietnam . This number does not include those who died.
5. An estimated 20,000 people died in the earthquake that hit Gujrat, India, in 2001. Nearly 167,000 were injured. More than 400,000 homes and buildings were also destroyed. The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the tsunami that followed in 2004 killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Whole communities were wiped out in Aceh, Indonesia and the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Cyclone Nargis took more than 138,000 lives in the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar in May, 2008. Many thousands more went missing. Devastation was complete in the worst affected areas.
6. Just days after cyclone Nargis raged through the Delta in Myanmar, a massive earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale struck Sichuan province in central China. More than 69,000 people perished, about 370,000 more were injured and over 18,000 went missing. Between 5 million and 11 million people were made homeless. The damage was estimated at US$85 billion.
7. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 was the largest- ever earthquake to strike Japan. In a country that is reputed to be the best prepared for natural disasters in the world, an estimated 15 million people died or were injured. The partial meltdown of the three nuclear reactors in the Fukushima plant is the second largest nuclear disaster in history after Chernobyl.
8. Countries beyond the Asia-Pacific region experience a fair share of humanitarian crises arising out natural causes as well. In 2003, the most severe heat wave to strike Europe in 500 years resulted in a death toll of 70,000. More than 26,000 people were killed when an earthquake struck the city of Bam in Iran in 2003.
9. Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed in August 2005 caused the biggest natural disaster in United States history. The hurricane took 1,836 lives. In October the same year, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit the Kashmir region of Pakistan killed 74,500 people. More than 300,000 people are believed to have died in the earthquake of Haiti in 2010. The disaster left another 300,000 injured.
10. These acts of God, awesome in their scale and colossal in their destructive impact, are difficult to foretell and impossible to prevent. The resources required for containment, recovery and rehabilitation are also forbidding in the case of major disasters. They are beyond the capacity of many governments. The earthquake in Haiti, for instance, affected 3.7 million people, nearly a third of its entire population, and caused an estimated US$8 billion in damage. It also spawned nearly half a million cases of cholera.
11. We are not as helpless, though, in confronting the other primary source of humanitarian disasters. These are the disasters that are made by man. They are usually disasters ensuing from wars and violent conflict. They can also include tough and protracted sanctions imposed against a state that seriously undermine its economic and social resilience. Ultimately, it is the people that bear the burden and pay the price in such cases.
12. Since this kind of humanitarian disaster is man-made and therefore not impossible to avert, let me spend a bit more time on this challenge to global peace. When the First World War ended, the leading nations of the world thought they had had enough of wars. They were weary of the carnage and blood-letting. An estimated eight and a half million soldiers had been killed and 21 million more wounded. They dubbed the bloodbath “the war to end all wars”, and to prevent further wars they penned the Covenant that established the League of Nations.
13. As we know, the League of Nations was an abject failure and the world was plunged into an even larger war just twenty years later. That war is the deadliest in history. An estimated 21 million to 25 million soldiers and 50 million to 55 million civilians died in the war and from war-related disease and famine. The bloodshed that included the Holocaust and the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki produced another bout of “never again” anti-war sentiment.
14. The Charter of the United Nations that this sentiment gave birth to is eloquent and clear. The preamble declares that “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time had brought untold sorrow to mankind” the people of the United Nations were determined “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors”. The nations further pledged to “unite their strength to maintain international peace and security, and “ensure that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”.
15. However, many violent conflicts and wars have broken out around the world since the Charter was adopted in 1945. They are tragic testimony to the inability of the global community and the leading powers that dominate it to live up to their solemn pledge to forsake war. The humanitarian costs and the risks to global security have continued to mount. The number of conflicts in West Asia and North Africa increased from an already high 55 conflicts in 2009 to 74 in 2014. Available data indicates that among the 100 million people estimated to require humanitarian support in 2015, there were 40.8 million internally-displaced persons, 21.2 million refugees and 3.2 million asylum seekers.
16. A once relatively stable region where internal socio-political contradictions were contained and tamed by authoritarian rule, West Asia and North Africa began to unravel when first Afghanistan, then Iraq was invaded and subdued with ferocious intensity. The invasions ignited humanitarian crises of immense proportions with regard to lives lost, limbs maimed and homes and buildings destroyed. Vital infrastructure that supported food and water supply and public health facilities were also crippled. There was mass population displacement within the countries and spillover into neighbouring countries. The costs continue to mount as government forces, insurgent groups that include terrorist elements and some foreign forces engage in fighting. There appears to be no end in sight.
17. The conflict in Afghanistan that began when it was invaded in 2001 is now 15 years old. It has so far left an estimated 111,000 people killed and more than 116,000 injured in war. More than 31,000 of the dead are civilians. The turmoil in the country continues unabated. The conflict in Iraq since its invasion in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein is now 13 years old. More than 500,000 people have died from war and war-related causes. More die practically every day. The Chilcot Report confirms that the invasion led to the rise of the Islamic State. The so-called Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread across several Arab countries is now being referred to as the Arab Winter. Libya, Yemen and Syria are in turmoil. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, outside powers are deeply involved in these conflicts.
18. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described the war in Syria as “the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era”. Many cities and provinces in the country have turned into war zones and killing fields. Nearly half of all Syrian citizens have fled from their homes, and one out of eight has become a refugee. More than half of the population that fled are women and children. Imagine if this happened to your country and your people. And to your family.
19. Absent the authoritarian glue that kept some countries together, critical parts of West Asia and North Africa have dissolved into violent convulsions of ethnic, tribal and sectarian conflict. Severe deficits in democracy and good governance have compounded the situation. The anarchic conditions have been fertile ground for the rise of many armed movements that are battling each other and the government. Never before, perhaps, have so many Muslims been as busy slaughtering each other, ostensibly in the name of Islam. Backed by patrons in the region as well as countries farther away, some of them have become little more than proxies and instruments in the contest for geopolitical power.
20. The plight of the Palestinian people continues to weigh heavily on our collective conscience. Palestine remains at the heart of the problems in West Asia even if global attention now is largely on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Six decades after they and their forefathers were driven from their homes and their land, more than 6 million Palestinians continue to be displaced and dispossessed. No political solution appears to be in sight. Those who wish to return continue to be denied this fundamental right. A generation of displaced Palestinians has passed away. Young children have become old men and women.
21. Palestinians live in the most basic conditions in UN refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In the Gaza Strip, life is appalling amidst the rubble of past Israeli shelling. More than 6,000 Palestinians are being held as prisoners and security detainees in Israeli cells without proper trial. For the majority of these prisoners, their greatest crime was to agitate against the illegal occupation of their land.
22. The Palestinians have lost nearly 80 percent of the land they owned, yet creeping annexation continues with the building of new illegal settlements according to a grand design. This daylight robbery is carried out with impunity because Israel is only too well aware that the powers that matter will do little of substance to check its actions. Palestine remains tragic testimony to double standards and hypocrisy in the upholding of international law and respect for human rights.
23. The African continent is the other region facing severe security challenges and grave humanitarian crises. Sadly, the situation continues to deteriorate. Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali are the countries that have suffered the most war and war-related casualties in recent years. The Boko Haram insurgency and government counter-insurgency operations have led to more than 47,000 deaths and more than 1.5 million people displaced in Nigeria. Over 150,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
24. More than 300,000 people have died in the civil war in South Sudan, and over three million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out at the end of 2013. Seven million Sudanese are refugees in neighbouring countries. Teaching has stopped in many schools. Four million people face severe food shortages. Hunger, malnutrition and disease are widespread. An estimated seven million people require humanitarian assistance. Extended drought, occasional flooding, conflict and lack of basic infrastructure have led to long-term food shortages in Somalia. More than one million people have become refugees, and more than one million require food assistance.
25. Europe in particular is today facing multiple challenges to security arising from the humanitarian crises in West Asia and Africa. Driven by conflict that has intensified in their home countries, the number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers has grown from about 280,000 in 2014 to more than a million last year. The unprecedented scale of refugee flows and migration from crisis areas is causing many European countries to put up barriers and quotas to restrict the flows. This has aggravated the hardships faced by the men, women and children fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria mainly.
26. International efforts to manage the growing humanitarian crises have so far been grossly inadequate. Calls to address the “root causes” of man-made disasters have largely been ignored by the major powers. As a consequence, international efforts have focused more on providing the resources for humanitarian assistance for the affected population. Some efforts are also made to accommodate refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
27. The funds and resources allocated for humanitarian assistance have increased over the years, but they are not sufficient to meet the growing demands. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid is seeking a total of US$21.6 billion in aid in 2016 to meet the needs of 95.4 million people most affected by conflicts and natural disasters in 40 countries. So far only about a quarter of the amount has been received, leaving a shortfall of about US$16.0 billion.
28. Valiant efforts however continue to be made by international bodies and dedicated groups to increase humanitarian support. The most ambitious of these has been the convening of the first World Humanitarian Summit by the United Nations Secretary General in Istanbul in May 2016. The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing established by the Secretary General that I was invited to Co-Chair, also presented its Report at the Summit and helped shape the outcome.
29. To be candid, the Summit could have been more impactful if there had been stronger political commitment on the part of the major players. The G7 countries saw attendance at the highest level only by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The others were only able to send senior representatives. The Summit’s outcome as distilled in a Chair’s Summary is not legally binding upon Member States.
30. The Chair’s Summary was a key document that fed into deliberations among Member States early this month. The aim of the meeting was to agree on a draft outcome document that will be tabled for adoption at a High-Level Meeting to address large movements of refugees and migrants at the annual United Nations General Assembly Meeting on 19 September 2016.
31. Hopes for more substantive action among the international community at the meeting, however, will not be fulfilled. The outcome document proposes only a “Political Declaration” that contains no concrete commitments on the part of Member States to enhance the safety or protection of refugees and migrants. These commitments will only be discussed in 2018. The document will also have no force of international law.
32. On 20 September 2016, United States President Barack Obama is scheduled to convene a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis at the same venue. The aim is to secure agreement on increased funding for humanitarian causes, admission of more refugees by recipient countries and provision of opportunities for education and work for refugees. Progress on improving the plight of the millions of refugees and migrants who are trapped in the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War Two is therefore likely to be agonizingly slow and incremental. It is nevertheless the obligation of the international community headed by the UN Secretary General and other committed parties to continue to pursue a more effective response to the enormous challenges.
33. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Migration and Development Civil Society Network and a host of other international bodies and non-government organisations can be strong partners for a concerted push to secure a global compact for more substantive measures and speedy and effective action. The consensus achieved so far in initiatives such as “One Humanity: Shared Responsibility” produced at the World Humanitarian Summit and the Political Declaration to be adopted at the forthcoming UN General Assembly Meeting, though modest, can serve as building blocks for this global compact.
34. The Report of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing contains concrete and practicable recommendations on closing the existing large humanitarian financing gap. It suggests measures to reduce humanitarian needs, mobilise additional funds from existing and new sources and improve the efficiency of the delivery system. Among the ideas submitted for consideration are the apportionment of Official Development Assistance to the most fragile countries; the maintenance of emergency reserve funds; increased investment in dedicated budgets for disaster risk reduction; and multi-year funding. The Panel supports ongoing efforts to tap into Islamic social funding such as waqf, zakat and sukuk bonds as Muslim populations are the ones most affected by the conflict-induced humanitarian disasters. A Grand Bargain between donors and organisations dispensing assistance to increase financing and distribute aid more efficiently is also proposed.
35. Addressing humanitarian disaster needs requires the international community to work on many fronts. Shattered cities and dwellings will have to be re-built. Safe water, electricity, food, clothing, shelter and basic health facilities are critical for human survival. Safe and orderly passage are important for families fleeing from the horrors of war and famine. Unaccompanied minors require special care and protection; many have disappeared in Europe. Education and job opportunities will make migrant communities more self-reliant and resilient. Xenophobia and racial and religious hatred will need to be kept in check.
36. Adequate and sustainable financial resources are the essential prerequisite for all these. It is therefore of utmost urgency that the humanitarian financing gap be quickly closed. It is equally important that the assistance provided is done in ways that enhance the resilience of fragile disaster-prone countries and communities to better withstand and weather future crises.
37. The best approach to managing humanitarian disasters made by man, however, is to avert or diminish their likelihood. No human – man, woman or least of all a child – should have to endure the agony and suffering of the refugees and migrants or the affected populations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Nigeria, Sudan or South Sudan.
38. The necessity to address the root causes of humanitarian disasters has been long recognized. Almost two decades ago, in April 1997, Mrs Sadako Ogata, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “The days of ad hoc reactions and which concentrate on symptoms rather than on causes should belong to the past”. The draft outcome document that will be deliberated at the forthcoming UN General Assembly affirms that “We are determined to address the root causes of large movements of refugees and migrants.”
39. The world will be a safer place if the United Nations Charter, international law, the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols on the rules of war, and international humanitarian law are scrupulously observed and upheld by all countries. Unfortunately, there have been many instances in the past where international law as well as international humanitarian law have been violated with impunity.
40. It is incumbent upon the international community and especially the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek effective ways to minimize flagrant violations of international humanitarian law. Non-government organisations that are dedicated to global peace can also play an effective role because they are less vulnerable to the politics of power and the need to be “politically correct.”
41. Too often the security of the human person is made subservient to the interests and security of the state. The Charter of the United Nations firmly ensconces the security of the state as the central concern of recognized international law. If the profound carnage on human lives that was wrought during the last two World Wars has failed to teach us a lesson, the carnage and human suffering that we now see in the massive humanitarian crises unfolding in West Asia and Africa should sensitise us to the fact that human security and the dignity of the human person should be at the centre of global security concerns.
It would be fitting perhaps to end my speech this evening with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela:
“Safety and security don’t just happen,
They are the result of collective consensus and public investment.