Welcome to the United Nations

Press conference by the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support

20 Dec 2010

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra today outlined key developments and challenges facing the Department of Field Support — including the implementation of a standardized global field support strategy and continued work on electoral processes in several nations.

In the past few weeks, said Ms. Malcorra, the main challenges facing the Department had been related to the electoral processes in Haiti and in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as preparations for the upcoming referendum in Sudan.  Those three simultaneous processes had put a burden on the field support staff.  In Sudan, where several weeks remained before the scheduled referendum, much more remained to be done, in particular, the distribution of ballots.

Regarding the situation in Afghanistan, United Nations staff had recently been able to move to a new headquarters, she said, adding that the move was important, as it would help accommodate more staff and relieve existing staff on the ground.  In Iraq, American forces were reducing their presence there, and more was being required from the United Nations in terms of the safety and security of its staff.  Budgets, therefore, must accurately reflect those requirements.

In Somalia — another “big ticket item” in the Department’s workload — the troop level of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) had reached the planned 8,000, said Ms. Malcorra.  Her Department was working to support that deployment and to implement a logistics package endorsed by the Security Council and General Assembly.  The Council would also likely renew AMISOM’s mandate and expand the level of troops from 8,000 to 12,000, she said.

At the same time, the Department was working to implement a global field support strategy that had been approved in June.  In that regard, the operationalization of a field support centre in Entebbe, Uganda,was under way, and the Department was beginning to deploy functions to staff in the region.  The safety and security of that staff were essential, as was the goal of better operational flexibility.  As an example, she pointed to the flexibility that had enabled the quick movement of troops during the current crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  Additionally, the Department was working to implement the idea of modularization — or the establishment of modules to build up camps during mission deployment.  “We need to think ahead of time when we deploy, in a more intelligent way,” she said, adding that working in a more standardized way across all missions was critical.

She said that a key element of mission standardization was already under way in the form of better water treatment and waste management.  She recalled that many members of the global media had raised questions in recent weeks regarding the source of the cholera epidemic in Haiti.  Stressing that there had been no conclusive evidence linking United Nations peacekeepers with the outbreak, she said that updates in water and sanitation had been initiated in field missions even before the epidemic began.

Responding to a specific question regarding the expansion of water and waste treatment processes, Ms. Malcorra said that the notion of reducing negative impacts on the environment was “not necessarily mainstream” among United Nations missions.  Her Department was working to correct that by taking advantage of renewable energy sources wherever possible, minimizing the need for generators and fuel, as well as modernizing its water and waste treatment processes.  Treating water and sewage in a “packaged” manner — in particular so that the process could be replicated across many missions — was a major component of that work to minimize the negative impact for local populations, she said.

Turning to other new developments, the Under-Secretary-General described a new Department presence in Valencia, Spain, where the Government had given 25 million euros to build a “state-of-the-art” back-up centre for United Nations telecommunications and Internet technology.  The Organization’s network had long had a “single point of failure” in Brindisi, Italy, she said, but Member States now recognized the need for additional support.

She noted that the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was finalizing its work for the year, including on several key issues relevant to the Department.  Among those was a review of the conditions of service for field staff, and, in particular, stronger support for those working in the harshest, most difficult conditions.  In that regard, a better alignment of family and non-family duty stations was “long overdue”.

Responding to a question on the Department’s use of technology, she said the “good news” was that Member States now recognized the need to use technology more intelligently.  Many challenges remained in that regard, however, due especially to the lack of cellular coverage in many remote areas and to the high cost of satellite service.  Work was under way to make better use of technologies such as radio, she said, and should be fully implemented in 2011.

Responding to a question about specific national staff grievances at the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), she noted challenges in creating staff unions for the first time.  Such difficulties were “part of the learning experience that is coming out of a conflict situation”.  The Department worked in such situations to help colleagues on the ground understand the rights and responsibilities of unions.  She hoped the United Nations could improve staff relationships with management in the future.

Replying to a question about the separation of duties between the Departments of Field Support and Political Affairs, she said that with a narrow mandate to supply logistics support, her Department had a very different mandate from other United Nations organs.  It was there “to enable others to do their work”.  Nevertheless, it expended major effort, particularly in areas such as preparing for elections and liquidating missions that had been closed.