Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends and colleagues in the humanitarian community,
A warm welcome and a very good morning to you all! We are honoured and pleased to welcome you to this demonstration of selected Norwegian innovations for the UN and international humanitarian organisations, in collaboration with Innovation Norway.
First of all I wish to thank Dr Fykse Tveit and the World Council of Churches for providing this venue.
Some 20 years ago, in the aftermath of the first Gulf war, there was a mass exodus of Kurds who were forced to flee from Northern Iraq as a result of attacks by the government of Saddam Hussein. The UNHCR was called upon to rescue them – and it had the will to do so - but lacked manpower and the required goods and relief items to support the mass departure of Kurds with more than 1.5 million people fleeing to the Turkish mountains. This was the point of departure for the first standby emergency response capacity. Our foreign minister at the time, Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, who had just returned from being the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, responded to the Kurdish crisis by establishing The Norwegian Emergency Response System, NOREPS. Stoltenberg was guided by another Norwegian who is well known to the UN and the humanitarian community, Mr. Jan Egeland, who was State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Norwegian Emergency Response System was established as a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Red Cross, major Norwegian humanitarian NGOs and selected Norwegian suppliers of relief goods and services. Later it was strengthened by the participation of the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning. It was mandated to strengthen and support the UN system and other international organizations in humanitarian relief operations, and this has for a good 20 years been carried out through a combination of standby personnel, ready-to-deploy stocks of relief goods and life-saving equipment, as well as excellent logistics. The network is administered by Innovation Norway, which is a public entity under the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Recent years have seen numerous mega disasters that have seriously stretched the capacity of the humanitarian and development community to respond in an adequate manner. The Asian Tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan, civil unrest in West Africa, the famine on the Horn of Africa and the conflict in Syria are recent examples. Such emergencies, which increasingly bring together both conflict and natural disasters - illustrate the need for a precipitated response. The UN, international organisations and NGOs work in partnership with states to strengthen security and respond to people’s needs in humanitarian crises. Preparedness is one of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moons main priorities. However, although it is frequently repeated in different forums that preparedness is more cost effective - and lifesaving - than post-disaster response, measures continue to be poorly financed and not integrated into existing strategic and fund raising tools.
Norway has systematically invested in preparedness and disaster risk reduction activities through programs and initiatives such as NOREPS and NORCAP, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s emergency roster which forms an integral part of the NOREPS partnership. These contributions have for more than two decades been well endorsed by the UN and the international humanitarian community as important means of strengthening the capacity to respond to complex emergencies and natural disasters.
Norway does its part and will continue to do so. Our aim is to strengthen the international community’s capacity to assist countries emerging from disaster and conflict. Our goal must always be to deploy the right person, product or solution to the right place at the right time by the right means.
In line with developments in the humanitarian community at large, support systems must also be under continuous development and adaptation in accordance with operational needs in the field. NOREPS is well positioned for this, as the network is administered by Innovation Norway, which as a public entity is mandated to offer services and financing to boost innovation in enterprises and industry. Hence, the system fosters product development, new ideas, innovations and sustainable solutions, responding to the demands of the UN and the humanitarian agencies.
We have invited, to Geneva, selected Norwegian companies that carry good examples of innovations and solutions that have the potential to result in improvements in products, processes or approaches to the delivery of aid and development.
I hope that the demonstrations and parallel workshops these two days will serve as a meeting arena for experts and advisors in key UN agencies and international organizations to meet with Norwegian suppliers and leading NGOs, demonstrating and offering their solutions.
I do also hope you will have the chance to stay with us for lunch to enjoy a little “Taste of Norway”. I wish you a fruitful and, I hope, mutually benefitting event!