31 Mar 2016

ECOSOC Forum

President of the UN Economic and Social Council Ambassador Oh Joon,
President of the UN General Assembly Lykketoft,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to be at the UN with you today as members and representatives of the United Nations, NGO’s and business communities. You have all done so much and are doing so much to make our world a better place.

This ECOSOC Forum comes at crucial time — a time of turmoil and transition. The challenges we face today — the spread of terrorism, the largest displacement of people since World War II, and economic instability— demand concerted action.

This is the second time in four months that I have been to the United Nations.

The last time I was here, I was supposed to talk about world hunger. The tragic attacks in Paris made it a moral obligation to make a plea for peace.

Now in such a short space of time, I am here at the UN again, and this time it is just days after the horrifying events in Brussels and Lahore.

As a Muslim, and a member of the Hashemite family let me be clear about this: The people who commit these acts do not commit them in the name of Islam. They have borrowed the name of Islam, but they are not Muslims.

Their twisted ideology — whether under the banner of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Daesh, Boko Haram, Al Shabab or any of the other mutant offspring of hatred and hopelessness — has no resemblance to Islam. There should be no confusion about that.

I am not compelled to stand before you today and plea for peace. I feel unequivocally that today as a United Nations messenger of Peace, I need to demand that you recognize that peace needs to be fought for, and now its time to fight, and the only way you can fight is by providing people something to live for…

There is a harsh reality in these events that is extremely relevant for the ECOSOC: the forces of evil, are more organized than ever. And we, the force of true humanity remain disorganized and fragmented.

This is even more senseless when we recognize that terrorism, violence and displacements are as old as mankind. The fact that these issues persist is part of the human makeup, but the fact that we allow them to continue without finding or repeating a simple, clear cut, hard hitting solution that deals with root causes is tragic and unforgiveable.

History is littered with examples that we should have learned from… the Crusades, the Inquisition, the genocide of native peoples and forced expulsions by colonizing powers in virtually every continent of the world, North America, South America, Oceania, and Asia… the genocide of the Jews in World War II, the oppression of the Palestinian peoples. The Ethic cleansing of Muslims in the Balkans, the Rwandan genocide, the Khmer Rouge in the killing fields of Cambodia…and so many more…

And now, here today: how can we in the civilized world, not recognize by now that humanitarian and development aid is the most effective way to prevent and fight terrorism and radicalism.

The best way to win this war is to give people in need hope and dignity. People who have something to protect aren’t willing to let others destroy it – and they are certainly not willing to join the destruction.

There is another lesson from this. The evil forces have found a rallying point to bring people together, a twisted ideology.

The humanitarian community needs a rallying point. And it already has one, since 16th of June 1945, when 50 nations signed the UN Charter. Since then, the people of the world, and most importantly those in the developing world in need of help and at the epicenter of conflict, believe that the United Nations is the body that holds in its hands the moral authority of our planet.

The UN — is the world’s best hope for concerted action — and it is on the cusp of some important changes. We are on the eve of the election of a new Secretary-General. The sun has set on the Millennium Development Goals. It has risen on the Sustainable Development Goals.

This time of transition at the UN is also a time of great promise. Under the leadership of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and many of you, the MDGs demonstrated that concerted action can make a difference. But we should know that it will be difficult to achieve the SDG targets.

Last year the UN and NGOs had to appeal for $25 billion for humanitarian aid to cope with crises fueled by religious and ethnic conflict in Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, the Central African Republic, Yemen and South Sudan.  

Twenty-five billion dollars is 10 times the level of emergency funding the UN needed back in the year 2000 when we set the Millennium Development Goals.  So tens of billions of dollars we might have spent on development have been swallowed up in these bloody conflicts.

I would like to share a perspective that I developed from my travels as a UN Messenger of Peace; basic human needs trump everything. All of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are worthy, but my experience tells me that the first two -- no poverty and zero hunger – are the starting point for the rest.

To put it bluntly, people who are starving are not thinking about the other SDGs. I am not suggesting that we should not address all of these problems. But we do have to set priorities. And, even more importantly, to be successful, we have to ensure that our partnerships to achieve the SDGs override all competing interests. The aid community has too many actors, too much bureaucracy, and too little trust. 

The mistrust that exists among the business community, NGOs and academics; the struggle for control among UN agencies, the NGOs and bilateral donors; and the ferocious scramble by aid providers to get into the media as they compete for resources and credit, must stop.  

How can we build viable partnerships in a sector as crowded as aid?  In emergencies, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs struggles to bring reason into the chaos of emergency aid operations that can involve dozens of NGOs, bilateral donors, and businesses.

I recall when we flew aid from Dubai into Port au Prince, Haiti, just days after the 2010 earthquake, the airport grounds and nearby roads were jammed with tents and vehicles flying banners and flags from various aid agencies and donors.

It was really bedlam and, for once, I prayed for a good traffic cop. It was a chaotic illustration of the problems that beset the coordination of aid. Perhaps the biggest problem is that no aid agency or donor really likes to be "coordinated".  

As the actor, Cary Grant, once commented, “All the world is a play, but no one seems to want the supporting roles.”  Far too often, cooperation and coordination only occur as a result of negative media coverage, complaints by frustrated donors or scathing audit reports documenting duplication and waste.  

Some years ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan published what he called “UN Competencies for the Future.”

All of these competencies are aligned with the UN’s core values of integrity, respect for diversity and professionalism. They include communication, teamwork, accountability, vision, creativity, empowering others, building trust and a client orientation.

These concepts are the foundation for effective partnerships. No team can function if the players do not share basic information and strategies. Yet, believe it or not,
globally we still have no single, comprehensive system that tracks all flows of public and private aid. The most detailed aid reporting still comes mostly from just the traditional donors and the system needs to be expanded.

We need a more inclusive global tracking system that reports all government and private aid -- and shows in detail where it is going and how it is used. We lack good data on important new national donors.

As it stands today, projects paid for by World Vision, Catholic Relief Services or the Red Crescent out of their own funds do not show up in ODA, nor do donations by Siemens, MasterCard, Sumitomo, or private contributions through Islamic charities.   

I know that OECD and the UN are working on a broader system. They need more political support.  Vision and creativity can lead to new solutions for seemingly intractable problems.

The report that UN SG Ban Ki Moon released in Dubai in January for the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit called for increased cooperation and coordination with the private sector. It is not a matter of asking for donations, but building real business engagement.  

For example, more than a decade ago the World Food Programme began promoting famine risk insurance.  Similar insurance systems could provide early-stage help to limit the impact of epidemics and other natural disasters. 

Major financial institutions are also certainly capable of designing bond funds that could support both development and emergency operations.

Empowering others means helping people help themselves. We have seen some good success with crowd-funding for women's micro-finance projects. Numerous micro-finance projects in developing countries, especially targeted on small-scale entrepreneurs, are showing good returns.

Building trust means creating effective aid teams with roles assigned based on comparative advantages and skills. We need more involvement by non-traditional donors, and national and local NGOs in the developing world.  

The United Nations gives us the best opportunity to forge unity in the diversity of the aid community. This is our rallying point. You are the people who can help pull together the forces of good.

We need this today more than ever before. It is time – it is past time – to heed the lessons of history and to respond to the painful realities of today.

One of the memories that haunts me most everyday was my encounter with a lady I met at a refugee camp in Ethiopia 10 days after she had carried her children across the border from South Sudan. She had walked 15 kilometers without food or water, under constant threat of attack, to seek shelter in an overflowing UNHCR camp outside Gambella. She had no clue whether her husband was alive or where he was. She risked sexual assault every night if she walked through the pitch dark to the latrines, and if she didn’t take that risk, she would ruin the hygiene of her tent and put her children at risk of disease. As she talked, she squatted in the mud among hundreds of other women, with a child in her lap, waiting for a bucket of food.

“I was like you before,” she told me in the most beautiful classical Arabic. I wasn’t sure what she meant until she explained it. “I had a house,” she said. “I had a husband. We didn’t have a lot of money, but our house was clean and our children had food. I had my dignity, I was proud of what I had. I was like you. Now, I am here.”

She is right, she is like me, and she is like you, too. And we need to work together for her, because she is our mirror. She also deserves a life with dignity and the ability to take care of her family. And without that for her… and people like her; our existence will be just as fragile as theirs. She is our mirror.

The greatest threat of this ECOSOC forum is that you will leave here thinking that more effective partnerships means progress. It is just a first step, but it is not nearly enough.

The only measure of success is the implementation of the SDGs under one umbrella, that of the United Nations, which all of the people of the world accept. It can’t be an army of individual efforts, each seeking credit. The only meaningful credit will be the thanks our children give us when they say that we left them a better world.

Thank you.