Jan Egeland, the United Nation's top humanitarian affairs official, will step down before Christmas after serving three years in the post. His resignation was expected with Kofi Annan's departure as UN Secretary-General at the end of the year.
As UN Under-Secretary General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Egeland has been an outspoken advocate for the world's most needy, many of them unwitting victims of civil war or natural disasters.
He helped bring attention to the two-decade long conflict in northern Uganda, calling it the most forgotten humanitarian crisis in the world. And he has made no less than five trips to Sudan's western Darfur region to witness the humanitarian situation for more than 2 million people displaced by three years of brutal civil war.
Egeland was also front and center when a devastating earthquake struck northern Pakistan last year, killing more than 70 thousand people and displacing another 3 million others, many thousand of whom are still living in makeshift tents. One of his last efforts will be in Somalia, where he is traveling in the hopes of securing a deal to gain humanitarian access in a country with virtually no humanitarian aid programs for one-million people displaced by lawlessness and fighting since the collapse of the government in 1991.
VOA's Catherine Maddux sat down with Mr. Egeland to take stock of his three-year tenure as the United Nation's top humanitarian official. He said his biggest frustration is the inability of the international community to provide assistance to those who need it: “The world,” he says, “has never been richer…there are 60 or 70 rich countries, but we still do not have enough money for food or vaccinations for all those who could avoid dying from preventable diseases.”
He says the UN must make progress in areas where armed groups hold sway against terrorized civilians: “It is nonsensical,” says the high-ranking UN official, ”what they are doing to civilians: in the short term it can be revenge, looting, and plundering because it is a way of life. The problem of wars of our time is that they are internal strife situations where international law is not understood, explained, implemented or enforced.” Making matters worse, he says, is a new phenomenon of groups targeting humanitarian workers because they are “soft skinned and high yield” – helping to maximize their cause with publicity.
Egeland says “We have to make progress in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, (and) Somalia where we’re targeted as humanitarian workers….. We have to make progress in those areas where the armed groups who specialize in abusing the civilian population like Darfur and Eastern Congo, but in the long term, I am optimistic.”
Egeland says many see him as a mirror reflecting a deteriorating world. He disagrees. He says the world is a better place than it was 20 or 30 years ago when the international community was more selective in the aid it extended to those at risk. Today, he says, help is offered to practically all groups in need.
Let us know what you think of this report and other stories on our website. Send your views to AFRICA@VOANEWS.COM, and include your phone number. Or, call us here in Washington, DC at (202) 205-9942. After you hear the VOA identification, press 30 to leave a message. We want to hear what you have to say!