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“We have to deliver,” says UN humanitarian chiefKang Kyung-wha says that getting aid to the people in need is what drives her work
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승인 2013.09.06  13:13:49
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▲ Kang Kyung-wha has been Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator (ASG/DERC) for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since March 2013. She has held a variety of UN human rights positions. Photo by Darren Southcott

“The humanitarian consequences of this conflict are truly monumental. The scale is just unprecedented.”

The gravity of Kang Kyung-wha’s work is immediately evident at the Suites Hotel, Jungmun. The ongoing conflict in Syria is clearly on the mind of one of the United Nations’ most senior humanitarian actors.

The civil war, ongoing since 2011, was again dominating news agendas since the Assad regime had faced renewed allegations of chemical weapons use in early August. To date, the UN reports over 100 thousand have been killed, four million internally displaced and two million have fled as refugees. OCHA's chief, Valerie Amos, reports that the crisis is on a scale "we have rarely seen."

“These are the consequences of political failure,” Kang says. “It’s a huge disappointment that the international community cannot muster the political will to bring this conflict to an end.”

Kang’s work is fundamental to getting humanitarian aid to such conflict zones. She was appointed Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator (ASG/DERC) for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in March, 2013 and as principal advisor to Valerie Amos, the Under- Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator (USG/ERC), Kang is a key adviser to Ban Ki-moon on humanitarian issues.

Her office, OCHA, orchestrates emergency aid delivery in crisis situations, such as conflict and natural disasters, when state actors are unable, or unwilling. OCHA also supports longer-term projects to ensure states “strengthen their capacity and preparedness for crisis response.”

OCHA policy is set through the IASC (Inter-Agency Standing Committee), a policy forum of humanitarian agencies, including the UNHCR, UNICEF, ICRC, WHO and a coalition of non-governmental organizations. Dialogue and coordination between all state and non-state actors is a central OCHA objective. This can lead to confusion, says Kang.

▲ International NGOs operating in Syria. Image courtesy OCHA

“As humanitarians we need to deliver aid ... whether they’re in a no-man’s zone, whether they’re in government-controlled areas, or whether they are in opposition-controlled areas...that requires negotiating access all the way through,” she said.

“Sometimes getting access means dealing with ... groups with less-than-humanitarian credentials. We have to negotiate access ... Our goal is the people ... who are suffering and need the assistance.”

State actors also present obstacles to aid provision and humanitarian standards.

“We have recently adopted a human rights due diligence policy, so that when we assist national authorities [in security situations] ... [they must adhere] to international humanitarian and human rights law. We will only assist them to the extent that they keep their conduct within that international framework.”

In the case of Syria, OCHA had only received access to two aid hubs - in Homs and Tartus - at the time of interview. Kang says the complexity of the situation there, with a variety of state and non-state actors, reflects the nature of humanitarian work.

“[H]umanitarian work constantly needs to be more reflexive through assessment of on-the-ground needs and this is reflected in OCHA’s evidence-based approach. Needs assessment is fundamental ... and that’s an area where we constantly try to improve, systematise and standardize,” she said.

Kang states that OCHA officers and partners assess humanitarian needs daily; yet, problems arise when such evidence is difficult to collate. This necessitates strong partnerships with local actors and non-governmental organizations.

“In a situation such as Syria, we are having to rely on partners to do the actual delivery on the ground, such as the Syrian Red Cross...tremendous heroic work under difficult circumstances and many have been killed. [H]umanitarian access should not be arbitrarily denied but the reality has been that we have not had that presence as much as we had hoped for.”

▲ Kang Kyung-wha has been Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator (ASG/DERC) for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since March 2013. She has held a variety of UN human rights positions. Photo by Darren Southcott

While the humanitarian disaster in Syria commands headlines, it is OCHA and Kang’s mission to ensure aid continues to reach the victims of the “forgotten crises” of the day. This mirrors OCHA’s strategic shift from “when to leave” to “how to stay.”

“[T]here are also the forgotten crises off the global radar and protracted. In Afghanistan the discussion is about what happens after the pullout, but what happens from the humanitarian side is also a looming challenge and meanwhile there are also consequences still being dealt with ... I have made my point of going to the [Democratic Republic of Congo] as my first field mission and ... I am hoping to visit Afghanistan as my next mission.”

OCHA’s work is reliant on funding and when issues drop off the agenda, funding also falls. OCHA relies on the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) of around 450 million US dollars to provide grants and loans to rapid response and underfunded emergencies. In a field that is inherently responsive, the CERF is a crucial tool for timely aid delivery in changing global circumstances.

“We use [CERF] to help where something needs to be done but we have no resources. North Korea has been such a case for many years and this year we have already helped [World Food Program] deliver the food assistance to the tune of about 13 million dollars and we are very happy that the [South Korean] government has given UNICEF 6 million dollars to do their work. The estimation at midyear was that 98 millions dollars was needed and we hope that that initiative will trigger others donors into action,” said Kang.

This seems to have been the case. Just before going to press it was announced that Seoul had pledged a further 6.3 million US dollars to combat malnourishment in North Korea while private donors were to send 2.1 million US dollars of medical supplies.

The work of Kang and OCHA continues to make inroads even when not making the headlines.

For more information about the work of OCHA, click here or to read more about the OCHA's humanitarian work in Syria click here.

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