Budapest, 27-28 May, 2002

Role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief


Dr. Mónika LamperthLadies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to this Conference.

It is really so as we have spoken about previously and as it has been mentioned by Dr. Rajcsányi in the introductory speech: I feel personally committed to civil causes.

I regard the participation of civil organizations in disaster management as important - and also in any other activity which provides for the safety protection of the people. This conviction has really contributed to the fact that this is the first public entry which I am making as Minister of the Interior before a wider audience. Another contributing factor was that the Government took the oath yesterday and a relatively short period has passed since my inauguration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The security of the Republic of Hungary - within this, the protection of our national values and constitutional order and the guaranteeing of the life and property of the citizens also in the event of natural or industrial disasters - is a nation-wide cause. The successful fulfilment of these aims free from party interests and ideologies is based on the concerted efforts of the state and the civil society.

I consider it important and evident that the communities of the citizens and the civil organizations take active part in the guaranteeing of life free from fear. It is a pleasure to me that as Minister of the Interior of the new Government acceded to office yesterday I can meet you at this Conference organized by the Quick Relief Foundation.

Foreign and Hungarian professionals are present here, have consultations and work in order to identify the role of non-governmental organizations in disaster management and relief and to discuss conditions and particulars by which the efficiency of this can be increased.

For Hungary, the opinions and experiences which the foreign participants of the Conference have been interpreting on behalf of the European Union, the UN, the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe or the disaster management organizations of individual countries are especially important. In the last half an hour I had the opportunity to speak shortly with foreign experts and officials about tasks which we all have to face in the event of an emergency. Methods have been mentioned; the system of mechanisms established and developed during recent years and updated from time to time in view of the new requirements as well as different procedures with which other countries have prepared for the prevention of disasters and naturally, also for the mitigation of the consequences of disasters occurred.

The concurrent opinion has developed - which I confirm out of the best of my heart - that, in view of the experiences gained so far in disaster management, a more dynamic involvement of the non-governmental organizations, a wider cooperation with them and the strengthening of joint activity in disaster management is necessary.

The efficiency of this cooperation should also be increased through the coordination of the activity of the non-governmental organizations. Beyond the defined tasks of cooperation with the State, this coordination should be realized mainly through the support of the civil organizations, the civil sphere; through the activity of civil organizations which have the necessary strategic attitude, knowledge and technical capabilities available in order to promote the most efficient use of existing resources possible, in disaster relief as well as in preparation and prevention.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the fulfilment of its tasks, the newly formed Government has been regarding the civil organizations as strong and autonomous partners capable of making independent decisions. One of the basic features of a well operating democracy is that it helps establish and consummate the self-organization of the people, the civil activity of local and wider communities and the democratic civil society. Our Government wishes to act according to this conception. I believe that this approach, the enforcement of the above basic principle is a necessary precondition as well as a guarantee of the wider-scale involvement of the civil organizations also in the field of disaster management.

In Hungary, local governments have, beyond the governmental organs, all-important tasks in disaster management. In the event of any local or regional disaster the primary direction of rescue works is the responsibility of local governments concerned. There is a possibility for local governments to band together and conduct joint action for the management of large-scale disasters and the elimination of risks threatening the population.

However, they can perform their activity successfully only if they are prepared for it through adequate professional work; develop carefully their disaster management plans, assess resources and conduct adequate training for officials participating in elimination. This is the field where it is absolutely evident that local governments can perform their activity in full if they enjoy the support of the population and have established the level of confidence and contacts necessary for this and cooperate with civil organizations which are able and ready to cooperate.

The population should be prepared for disaster protection which requires adequate assets, procedures, information and regular education. I remember well when during the last huge flood the decision had to be taken on the evacuation of people from a village because they were in danger. However, they did not want to let behind their values and leave their homes.
The authority was in a difficult situation because naturally it did not want to employ means of coercion, however, in their professional opinion it was necessary for the inhabitants to move out of the village. I believe that one can prepare well for a situation like this if the population is already prepared in advance for the rules of conduct. Civil organizations are very good and suitable for this, that is, to establish direct contact with the people also in this regard and try to educate them what attitude and behaviour is necessary in the recognition of their own interests. Naturally it is the task of the professional rescue commander to undertake the responsibility of making decisions in the interest of the protection of human life and property. Through this example - of which I remember well from the recent period - my only intention has been to confirm that I consider the work, the activity of civil organizations excellent and suitable in order to support this and make progress.

I would like to add two components to what I said so far related to local governments; the first is a statement of principle - and also my personal conviction - and the second is a practical and indispensable one: the mentioning of the task.

Regarding the statement of principle, I am convinced that the full enforcement of the principle of local governing is essential in a democratic society and this is what really serves the interests of the people and the local communities.

As far as the practical question is concerned, I have to associate this with the hopeful process which is coming nearer and nearer to realization and which means the accession of Hungary to the European Union. I wish to carry on with the reform of public administration more efficiently than so far and with the adaptation of the Hungarian public administration system to the requirements of our times, the European Union. Within this, the system of regional local authority should, in any way, be established. I hope that following the accession of our country, within a short time, in my opinion in 2006 at the earliest, the first regional local authority elections may take place in Hungary. From the standpoint of disaster management the appearance of the regions and the development of their activity and operation mechanism will obviously mean new tasks and approach which the Government, local authorities and the civil organizations should prepare for and respond to collectively. Also in this regard the integrated system as well as the project management approach already generally accepted and employed in practice in the countries of the European Union and the United States of America should be used.

In accordance with the proclaimed aim of the European Union the natural objective of the Hungarian disaster management is the improved protection of the people, the environment and material property in the event of natural and other disasters. This concerns not only the domestic area but also the neighbouring countries where our rivers rise from and arrive in from our territory. Therefore, it is natural that we participate in international disaster management actions and humanitarian assistance. Obviously, cooperation between non-governmental organizations and the Government will come into the fore in this regard. So I support the endeavour - which has become obvious also during this Conference - that efforts aimed at transboundary regional actions and the activity of the Foundation organizing it have been coming to the forefront which I consider good and worth being supported.

Because of its water system depending also on its neighbours, the open natural borders and its central location, Hungary is basically interested in regional cooperation. Furthermore, we are also keen to keep order in borderline areas for the promotion of which the recommendations of the international experts made at this Conference are worth to be followed.

International rules, norms and a regional monitoring system should be developed and used mutually. Joint exercise should be conducted and cooperation between the civilian movements of our countries should be promoted. In short, regional cooperation in the field of disaster management and relief should also be strengthened.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me deal with one more theme. I am convinced that prevention and preparation are of essential importance in disaster management. Also important is the continuous reinforcement and maintenance of response capability as well as the mitigation of occasional damage to the minimum extent possible. We have a chance to survive disasters with the smallest degree of damage and injury if we bring governmental preparations and the capabilities, resources and activities of non-governmental organizations into harmony and if we all are prepared for the employment of established rules and procedures in our personal and direct environment. Planning based on the assessment and evaluation of risks and vulnerability and preparation should be strengthened in the Hungarian disaster management in the introduction of evaluation methods and procedures elaborated by the EU.

In accordance with the experiences of the EU countries and the EU recommendations we have to change over from the existing practice - which put post-disaster response into the centre - to the strategy which focuses on prevention and preparadness.

Capabilities related to reporting, documentation, research and development required by the European Union as well as domestic resources in accordance with emergency management needs should be built up in cooperation among the National Directorate General for Disaster Management, non-governmental organizations, training and research institutions and the business sector.

The aim is to ensure the efficient use of the mobilizable resources of the society. In a democratic society, the common activity of an open government which pays attention to the needs of the citizens and communities and responds to them actively and of the cooperating civilian organizations is the best guarantee of success in the prevention and mitigation of the damaging impacts of natural and industrial disasters.

The aim of the government - and also my personal ambition - is that it be so. Through joint planning and actions our disaster prevention activity can be successful. This is true for both the national and international level. Therefore Hungary, as candidate country, supports the position of the European Union approved in November 2001 on the establishment of a joint European disaster management mechanism and is ready to participate in this work. The present Conference can contribute to participation and progress to a significant extent and I wish further successes to the participants of this Conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this Conference. I have been honoured that I had the opportunity to present the standpoint of our Government on this topic. Also in the capacity of Minister of the Interior I would like to initiate a good cooperation with the non-governmental organizations. Please, understand and forgive me that now, following my presentation, I have to leave. The official hand-over is now under way in the Ministry. There are several particular things to be done which mean the start of the operative work. Nonetheless I have felt it important to come to this Conference breaking off this operative work and tell you these thoughts. Thank you and I wish you good work also in the future.
Thank you for your attention.
(Great applause)