Global Policy Forum

UN Emergency Coordinator Rebuffs Critics Who Say

UN News
January 4, 2005

To critics who say that there was too little relief effort in the early phase of last week's devastating Asian tsunami, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland had three words today: "I respectfully disagree." But he maintained his assertion that overall the developed world was unable or unwilling to make the necessary investment to halt the preventable deaths of 30,000 children every day – a tsunami-size toll each week – although he did not repeat the word "stingy" which last week caused an uproar in the United States when he was misinterpreted as referring to the present disaster and to Washington in particular.

"I think they were first class," he said of the reaction from UN Member States. "I've never ever had this kind of a response. From the United States to the European Union to the countries in the region we had an immediate promise and pledge of full support for all what we did and there is nothing which has held us back in this in terms of ungenerosity by any donors. "I wish we would have had this in the may other emergencies we faced in the year past us. My life has been more going hat in hand together with my colleagues asking for helicopters and money instead of having the possibility within the first few days to coordinate vast logistical services."

Mr. Egeland took to task those who said the United States was slow. "The US could not have been more proactive or more active seen from the UN point of view," he said. "Why didn't we really wake up earlier to the devastation at the Sumatra coast," he asked of the area worst-hit by the tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people, with the number still rising, injured 500,000 more and left up to 5 million lacking basic services. "I think it was partly because there was nobody to notify us, so hard did the tsunami hit."

Asked whether he was comfortable with the phrase "competitive compassion" being used to describe the way governments were coming together in the face of the disaster, Mr. Egeland said: "Well, I'd rather see competitive compassion than no compassion. "And my famous statement, which I will not repeat but which has gone all over was one referring to the situation where a community of 30, 40 very rich societies are not able or willing to foot the bill of feeding the children of the world really, nor giving them minimum health care. Thirty-thousand children die, it's estimated, every day from preventable disease and neglect. That is, you know, a tsunami every week. And it shouldn't be like that."

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