Annan's Top Humanitarian Aide Leaving U.N.

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As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ends his tenure, many of his key advisers are also moving on. Jan Egeland will depart after three years as the top adviser to Annan on humanitarian issues.


Kofi Annan is leaving his job as secretary general of the United Nations at the end of the year. Many of his top advisors are going with him. Among them, Jan Egeland. He's the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, he's been active in many of the world's trouble spots. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN: It was right around this time of year two years ago when countries were responding to the Indian Ocean Tsunami that Egeland made his most famous remark. He accused Western nations of overlooking many conflicts in the world and of being stingy when it comes to aiding the world's poor. Egeland - who has had a career in humanitarian affairs - says he still stands by that characterization.

Mr. JAN EGELAND (United Nations Humanitarian Chief): I famously called rich countries stingy overall, and I don't think 0.2 percent of our richest, in Europe, North America, Japan and elsewhere on average - meaning 99.8 percent we spend on everything else. But foreign assistance, that - I don't think it's that very generous.

KELEMEN: His office runs eight operations throughout the world, and in a large swath of Africa now in conflict, from Somalia to Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic and Congo. But the Norwegian diplomat says he's not leaving office entirely depressed.

Mr. EGELAND: 2006 has been the first year in my tenure where we've not had tremendous crisis, with glaring deficiencies in the international response. But it's my duty to tell the world that in Darfur, in Somalia, in North Korea and elsewhere, we have to do more.

KELEMEN: His job was not just fundraiser in chief, alerting the world of forgotten crises. He's also been in charge of coordinating the U.N. relief agencies. Egeland's biggest challenge perhaps was trying to make sure the response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami was well organized. He told NPR earlier this year that his office could have used its expertise better closer to home, after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S.

Mr. EGELAND: I think one of the lessons of Katrina, as well as in European floods, is that there are no society on earth which is prepared for the once-in-a-generation catastrophic events. However, in the U.N. and in the Red Cross movement, we have these two, three times per year somewhere in the world. I mean, the tsunami, the earthquake, or Katrina.

KELEMEN: In his three years on the job, the Norwegian diplomat has traveled the world's hot spots, complaining about the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon and about Sudan's attempts to block him from visiting camps in Darfur. He's even met with Joseph Koenig, a rebel leader in northern Uganda notorious for abducting children and forcing them to become soldiers. It was one of the many conflicts Egeland is trying to put in the international spotlight. The 49-year-old Egeland told reporters at the U.N. recently that he hopes to relax a bit now.

Mr. EGELAND: I think I will be writing a book, and I think I will have more and more nights in my own bed because I've been living like a gorilla soldier now for three years - never two nights in the same bed, and that is not a good thing.

KELEMEN: Today was his last day. No word yet on who replaces him, but his staffers say they hope the new secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, will find someone just as passionate. As for his book, Egeland plans to write about the best people and the worst he has met, and about how he thinks this generation has the resources to end the world's carnage. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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