Statement by NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson

Statement by NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson during the United Nations mini-Summit on the Horn of Africa that took place in New York on 24 September 2011.

UN Mini-Summit on the Horn of Africa
24 September 2011

Statement by NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson

Checked against delivery

NRC has a large humanitarian operation in the Horn of Africa and years of experience from delivering assistance on the ground in Somalia. Our assistance targets the most vulnerable communities in South Central Somalia and the refugees fleeing to Kenya and Ethiopia.

Allow me to say, that we have an excellent relationship with the Governments of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. We also have excellent relationship with our UN partners, and with NGO partners and also with our donors.

We are working hand in hand with, I see my colleague here from Concern in Mogadishu, and also with Islamic Relief. I think it is so important to ensure that we all understand that in order to be able to respond to a crisis that is now unfolding in the Horn of Africa, we all need to work together, and that we have complementary roles. There should be no contradiction between humanitarian and development efforts.

In the current situation, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s priority is to save lives. We have built a mutual understanding with those who control the territory over years of negotiations, and are now able to distribute food and non-food items to 90,000 internally displaced people and local populations in South Central Somalia. We are also providing shelter, education, water, hygiene and sanitation, as a part of our long-term program.

What the Norwegian Refugee Council has proven in practice is that it is possible to deliver humanitarian assistance in the dangerous and non-permissive environment of South Central Somalia. The key to success is to constantly apply the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence in our day-to day-operations.

In practical terms:

We gain access through direct negotiations with those who control the territory, including Al Shabaab, or indirectly through local community leaders.

We demonstrate independence from political or military objectives, be they domestic or external.

We maintain a dialogue with local authorities, civil society, business leaders and others, to foster acceptance for our interventions and security for our staff.

We treat our beneficiaries with respect and dignity, which stimulates community mobilization and participation.     

And; we maintain a low profile on the ground. The lower the profile we keep, the higher is the safety of our staff and the higher the guarantee that our relief assets are secured.

Notwithstanding these measures, NRC, along with other well-established humanitarians working on the ground, is faced with a number of challenges and I want to focus on three of them here:

Number one; the denial of humanitarian access and the unpredictability of conditions surrounding aid delivery. This is a constant challenge for our operations. The worst affected populations are in remote areas that are often even beyond reach.

Second; the chaotic nature of aid delivery: In Mogadishu, a large proportion of aid is delivered by inexperienced actors, who are un-coordinated with each other and with the wider humanitarian community. The very volatile security situation, the high density of armed forces, and the ad hoc unprepared nature of distribution have led to the loss of many civilian lives.

And thirdly; efforts by the government to take charge of the aid operation are still too fragmented, and the TFG lacks capacity to do this without a strong external support.

Let me end with some recommendations:

A key priority is to scale up distribution of food at the local, village level to save lives and to prevent further displacement and distress-selling of land. Also, farmers need seeds and tools to be able to plant, once the rain finally sets in. They should be able to stay in their villages; they should not stay in refugee camps.

All providers of relief and assistance should apply the “ground rules” that have been worked out and agreed upon by the Humanitarian Country Team in Somalia. Nobody should have to pay for providing humanitarian assistance. And it is important that the UN, particularly the UN coordination structures, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation coordinate their efforts around this. I think, during today, there have been a lot of interventions calling for stronger coordination, so I think it is absolutely clear for everybody that we really need to coordinate the efforts with each other. And we need the UN and we need OIC to work together on this.

And lastly; there should be a strong separation of humanitarian and military action in Somalia. The humanitarian operation in Somalia must be civilian led. Rather than to call for humanitarian corridors or protection by AMISOM, UN agencies and NGOs should pursue negotiations at field level and collaboration with local partners.

Thank you very much.


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