Ahead of World Humanitarian Day -- August 19, 2010 -- Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, spoke at the start of the Department's Daily Press Briefing, joined by Acting Director for USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Mark Ward, and Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero, to reflect on the implications of the day and how it relates to the challenge and tragedy in Pakistan.
Assistant Secretary Schwartz said, "...Pakistan now confronts devastating floods of historical proportions. Earlier this month, 10 dedicated medical aid workers were brutally murdered in Afghanistan. In Kyrgyzstan, violence and intimidation forced some 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks to flee their home in June. Malnutrition is lurking in Niger, while relief efforts continue in other parts of the continent.""...So what do we draw from this day, given especially the proliferation of humanitarian crises? First, the number of people affected by disasters tragically is on the rise. By the end of last year, 43 million people were displaced by conflict, forced from their home due to disasters, and that was the highest figure in over a decade. More are impacted by natural disasters, including, as you'll hear about in a second, millions of Pakistanis displaced by torrential downpours and flooding.
"Second, and in spite of these trends, humanitarian assistance and relief by the United States is an extraordinarily sound investment. It represents a tiny percentage of the federal budget, but it saves -- not only saves lives, but promotes security and well-being where despair and misery often threaten. In Haiti, for example, food, shelter, medicine provided by the United States was critical in enabling Haiti to avert further large-scale loss of life after the earthquake took the lives of so many and has helped to permit the country to focus on the recovery process ahead.
"Third, we must transform our efforts to prevent disasters before they occur. In places like Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa, our programs to promote reconciliation, the rule of law, development help to diminish the prospects for conflict. And in several countries impacted -- even as we see the disaster in Pakistan, in several countries impacted by the tsunami -- the Asian tsunami in 2004 -- stronger building codes, warning systems, official emergency response systems have genuinely reduced the possibility that a natural hazard, like a hurricane, will become a full-blown disaster.
"...Frustration and donor fatigue are understandable given the myriad calamities in the headlines, but they are not good options as they contrast starkly with the progress humanitarians have made in alleviating the suffering of tens of millions of people in recent years. There's much more we can do to advance this noble cause."
You can read the full briefing here.
Related: Huffington Post Editorial.