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Early Action Saves Lives, Reduces Suffering, Cuts Costs, Secretary-General Says

Early Action Saves Lives, Reduces Suffering, Cuts Costs, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Humanitarian Affairs Segment

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the opening of the 2021 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Humanitarian Affairs Segment in Geneva today:

We gather as the pandemic continues to inflict profound suffering on the world’s most vulnerable people. While some countries now appear on the path to recovery, others face soaring poverty, unemployment and shattered basic services.

In many parts of the world, the pandemic has brought suffering on top of already existing and deteriorating humanitarian crises, which are too often driven by prolonged conflict, the climate crisis and economic fragility. These drivers have caused humanitarian needs to more than double over the past decade. We must urgently scale up investment in prevention, adaptation and anticipatory humanitarian action.

Last year saw new conflicts erupt in several countries, triggering violence, hunger, mass displacement and trauma for hundreds of thousands of people. As we meet, six countries face the threat of famine, or are already in famine-like conditions, bringing with it mass suffering, starvation and death. Women and girls around the world still face the scourge of gender-based violence. And the pandemic has forced many more children out of school, some with slim chances of returning.

In response, United Nations agencies, Governments and partners are scaling up to deliver food, cash, nutrition, health, and water and sanitation assistance to countries at greatest risk. I commend the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee for pulling together a coherent response to this unprecedented challenge.

But 2021 has brought us new tests, and we, the international community, must intensify our efforts. We know that acting early to get ahead of crises saves lives, reduces suffering and cuts costs. I call on all Member States to urgently provide the $35 billion needed to stop more human tragedy from unfolding. And I urge all countries to ensure humanitarian agencies are fully able to safely access and provide assistance to all in need.

The COVAX facility has delivered vaccines to millions of people, but more vaccines and funds are desperately needed. I urge all leaders to generously support the COVAX facility and take action to support a global vaccination plan to at least double production of vaccines and ensure equal distribution through the COVAX platform.

As we look to all of these and other challenges, we have a robust body of international laws, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law. They are the bedrock of humanitarian action and we all need to do our part to respect them.

Millions of people are looking to us for their survival and protection. We must stand in solidarity with them by fully supporting all humanitarian response plans to sustain existing life-saving operations. Critically, we need to target the different needs of all groups, including women and girls, people with disabilities and the elderly, and harness their leadership in our response.

With so much at stake, I urge you to take the opportunity of this ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment to chart a more effective humanitarian response in 2021 and beyond.

Thank you.


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