Donors Must Meet International Responsibilities to Survivors of the South Asia Earthquake, UN Experts Warn

Jean Ziegler,
Jean Ziegler Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Miloon Kothari,
Miloon Kothari Former UN Special Rapporteur on Housing
Paul Hunt,
Paul Hunt Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyong to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health
Vernor Muñoz, and
Vernor Muñoz Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
Walter Kälin
Walter Kälin Former Brookings Expert

November 21, 2005

The following statement was issued today by the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Walter Kälin; Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Mr. Miloon Kothari; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mr. Paul Hunt; Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Vernor Muñoz Villalobos; and Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler:

On Saturday in Islamabad, Member States of the United Nations and international financial institutions demonstrated their solidarity with the Government and people of Pakistan by pledging $5.4 billion for recovery from the devastation caused by the South Asian earthquakes of October 8. We warmly welcome these actions, which are in accordance with States’ international human rights responsibilities.

Yet even in the face of such generosity, the risk of a second humanitarian disaster looms large. More lives are at risk today than the 74,000 originally claimed by the earthquakes. Donors must not rest content with the outcome of Saturday’s conference. In order to save lives today, these pledges must be fulfilled immediately. Moreover, donors must allow flexibility in use of the funds. The vast majority of Saturday’s pledges were earmarked for long-term recovery and rebuilding, even though operations remain in the critical rescue and assistance phase.

We remind donors that with winter fast approaching and life-saving resources scarce, tens of thousands of earthquake survivors face death, hunger and disease as well as prolonged displacement and homelessness. Serious outbreaks of acute diarrhoea and disease highlight the need for increased efforts to provide safe water and sanitation in makeshift camps, and to ensure access to health services for vulnerable populations. As those displaced by the original disaster are joined by men, women and children fleeing cold weather and seeking food, water, shelter, medical services and other basic assistance, there is a serious risk that existing housing, sanitation and health facilities will become overwhelmed. Winterized shelter, pending the availability of adequate housing, blankets, food, sanitation facilities, and medical assistance are needed immediately to save lives.

Under international human rights law, States bear the primary responsibility for protecting the human rights of their populations, in particular their access to food, water, health services, education, adequate housing, and other elements necessary for an adequate standard of living. This responsibility extends to natural disasters. The Government of Pakistan has acknowledged this obligation but also recognizes the gaps in its capacity to provide immediate relief on the vast scale necessary and therefore has called repeatedly on the international community for assistance.

As reflected in the actions of donor countries on Saturday, Governments which are in a position to do so have a human rights responsibility to provide international assistance and cooperation. This responsibility derives from the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Declaration, and other international instruments. Most recently, the World Summit Outcome Document of September 2005 specifically expresses the commitment of Heads of State to “support[] the efforts of countries . . . to strengthen their capacities at all levels in order to prepare for and respond rapidly to natural disasters and mitigate their impact.”1

We therefore urgently appeal to all Member States of the United Nations, including the donors who recently convened in Islamabad, to honour their commitments and to ensure that immediate assistance is available to help Pakistan protect the lives and meet the immediate basic humanitarian needs of desperate earthquake survivors.

At the same time, the Government of Pakistan must do everything within its power to provide unhampered access by humanitarian actors, freedom of movement and choice of residence for its affected population and overall to respect and ensure the human rights of its people. Reconstruction efforts should be guided by standards of ‘habitability’, including durability of homes to withstand earthquakes and other disasters, and relief and rehabilitation must be carried out in a gender-sensitive manner. It is only through joint national and international cooperation based on human rights standards, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, that persons uprooted and at risk as a result of this devastating natural disaster can be effectively protected.

12005 World Summit Outcome, para. 169, A/60/L.1, 20 September 2005.