As the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) began the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2005 substantive session by holding a panel discussion on the transition from relief to development, Council Vice-President Johan C. Verbeke of Belgium said that assistance initiatives must incorporate the efforts of national actors to rebuild and strengthen national capacities. While that task was exceedingly complex, requiring a delicate balance of different types of assistance efforts, a great deal of progress had been made in learning how to cope with the intricacies and to better manage transition through better assessment, analysis, planning, financing and coordination.Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, agreed that national ownership was key to a successful transition from relief to development, and stressed that such ownership could ensure the process would be people-centred. A strong commitment to a collaborative approach and good coordination practices was necessary, requiring funding that could be converted from relief to longer term, she added.Among the other speakers, Kathleen Cravero of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said that the true breadth of a disaster’s impact was often masked in the flurry of activity surrounding the emergency period, which was a kind of equalizer. Afterwards, however, long-term recovery must be seen as a development challenge to reduce the risk of recurrence. She added that the UN country system must realize that recovery was a long-term process. Roles and responsibilities must be clear, and respective resident coordinators must have the technical abilities needed to support the government in the recovery process. Training must not only be provided for local capacity-building, but also to UN staff to provide that support.Nils Kastberg, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that without a transition to development, countries affected by natural disasters could slip backwards in socio-economic progress. It usually was the very poor, particularly women and children, who were most affected, and small economic measures could make a large difference. The international financing system often moved too slow to make a difference in the crucial transitional period.He said that the Latin America and the Caribbean region had been coordinating its efforts to prepare for the hurricane season and a joint regional office might be established to give consolidated support to UN country team and strengthen the national capacity for response. ECOSOC could help expedite the availability of resources and ensure that risk-reduction work was integrated into recovery. A transitional funding mechanism would also fill a much-needed gap.