Former United Nations official addresses need for humanitarian aid during stop on book tour

By Anna Waugh

Wealthy nations have enough resources to increase aid to poorer countries and advocate peace, former United Nations official Jan Egeland told about 70 Macalester students over breakfast in the Weyerhauser Boardroom on March 13.The former United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator stressed the need for increased humanitarian aid around the world to help bring peace to places of war, focus to relief efforts after natural disasters and end suffering caused by preventable disease.

Egeland spoke of the need for the United States and other rich nations to do their part in giving aid to the world’s poor populations, saying that many wealthy nations give less than 0.2 percent of their national income to the needy. This is not enough, he said. The target set by the U.N. Millenium Goals is 0.7 percent.

Egeland spoke of the need for leadership, funding and organization in the global humanitarian effort, specifically naming the United States. “It is very important that America is not inward looking,” he said.

Egeland has worked to create peace in some of the most heated places in the world: Darfur, the Gaza Strip, Congo, Colombia and Liberia among others. He also served as a leader in the relief work that followed the 2004 tsunami that killed 225,000 people in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean.

Though he has seen some of the worst human tragedies, Egeland said that he remains an “optimist, because I saw success more often than we failed.” Yet he said that even with more resources than ever, more technology than ever before and better tools in the form of effective NGOs, peace and humanitarian aid is impossible without the political will for change.

“Leaderships must focus on security. not just in the last year of a presidency,” Egeland said.

He also said that the international community must address corruption that goes along with monetary aid. He emphasized the importance of integrating missions to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, citing a suicide bomb attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 that killed 22 people, including 15 UN officials.

“The UN humanitarian members were killed because they were seen as part of the western [movement],” Egeland said. “[The Iraq war] puts them in more danger.”

Egeland’s visit to Macalester was a part of a 13-date speaking tour around the United States arranged in conjunction with the release of his book, “A Billion People: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity.” The event was organized by Trustee Lois Quam ’83. It was one of two stops for Egeland in the Twin Cities – the other was held at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.