PRESS BRIEFING BY UNDER SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 August 1999
As at 31 July, the United Nations had not received about $352 million of the $796 million requested from donors for the 1999 humanitarian appeal for Africa, Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello said at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon. About 70 per cent of the total amount requested would have been required by now in order to meet needs adequately, he added.
Mr. Vieira de Mello, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted that the major humanitarian agencies had in recent weeks drawn the attention of media, governments and the public to the consequences of the insufficient response to appeals for assistance.
He said the shortfall was all the more worrying as it appeared to be part of a general trend in declining aid budgets. Between 1992 and 1997, overseas development assistance (ODA) by the top 21 donor countries had dropped from $63 billion to $48 billion. In all but five of the top 21 donors, the overall decline since 1991 in the amount spent on foreign aid was approximately 30 per cent of gross national product (GNP). That decline had occurred against a background in most donor countries of positive growth rates, booming stock markets and in some cases, unprecedented budget surpluses. The markets in New York and Europe alone had increased by 70 per cent over the past three years.
Citing television images of last year's famine in southern Sudan, Mr. Vieira de Mello said there was a perception among the public that needs in Africa had diminished. While media coverage of different African crises had diminished, the needs had not. There might be no large-scale famine in the Sudan this year, but as long as the conflict in that country continued, the same people who were in need last year would continue to be in need this year.
Referring to other parts of Africa, he said that only 38 per cent of the $106 million requested for Angola had been forthcoming. Nothing was known about the needs of an estimated 3 million Angolans due to insecurity and lack of access resulting from war in that country. The Secretary-General had said that 200 people were dying daily nationwide. Due to irregular air access to Malanje and other besieged provincial capitals, the United Nations had been able to assist only about 600,000 people in need. In Malanje alone, four children were reportedly dying every day, because, due to insufficient funding, the United Nations operation was obliged to restrict aid.
Mr. Vieira de Mello said that only one third of the $64 million requested for Somalia had been received -- a shortfall of $42.4 million. About 300,000 Somalis facing starvation were being kept alive through a very fragile pipeline from neighbouring Kenya. The condition of another 1 million people was declining rapidly because of a failed harvest and intensified fighting in other parts of Somalia. About 400,000 people were at risk of starvation in that country, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates. The response to a 6 July donor alert highlighting the deteriorating situation and requesting an immediate $17.5 million had been very poor.
He said not a single dollar of the $14.5 million requested for the Congo, had been received. About 350,000 people in that country had fled fighting in Brazzaville and sought refuge in the Pool region north of the capital. About 120,000 had now returned to Brazzaville in a very poor state. About 300 women had provided testimony about how they had been raped, some of them repeatedly.
In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, an appeal for $7.7 million had yielded $3.3 million, Mr. Vieira de Mello said. Severe malnutrition even in the most affluent part of the country -- the capital, Kinshasa -- was afflicting 10.5 per cent of all children.
Other African countries facing humanitarian crises were Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Guinea- Bissau, Sudan and Rwanda, he said. Many of them were emerging from war and required assistance to shore up support for a still-unconsolidated, very fragile peace.
Mr. Vieira de Mello said that the shortfall in donor response was due to a perception of chronic insecurity in many African countries. It was thought that aid spent there was in danger of being wasted. That could become a self- fulfilling prophecy: where international aid and engagement was lacking, countries risked relapsing into cycles of violence and war. The victims of civil war seldom had any control over those who perpetuated the violence and should not be penalized for the callousness and irresponsibility of their leaders.
He said the answer was not aid alone, but increased political involvement in the pursuit of peace. The amount requested was modest: $796 million for Africa in 1999 to sustain 12 million lives across the whole continent. There might be donor fatigue, especially when conflicts lasted over years or decades as in the Sudan and Angola, but that did not reflect the will of taxpayers. After Hurricane Mitch hit Central America last year, the public in Spain alone had raised $10 million in a matter of days.
Why had no assistance been received for the Congo? a correspondent asked. Besides that country, where was apportionment of aid the least and where was it greatest?
Mr. Vieira de Mello said that chronic instability in the Congo made donors wonder whether their money would be well invested. Even if it were not well invested in short-term development aid, it was always well invested in saving lives. There was no justification for not responding to a humanitarian appeal.
Another journalist asked whether race was a factor in the lack of response from the richest countries.
The Under-Secretary-General said there had been generous responses to appeals last year for the Sudan. The United Nations was able to spend $1 million a day to keep Lifeline Sudan's airlift operation going. Visibility and proximity played a greater role than race, as did broader considerations such as strategic interests.
Did economic interest play a role? the same journalist asked.
That was questionable, Mr. Vieira de Mello said. There were immense economic interests at play in the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Angola.
Asked whether Kosovo had taken away from money needed in Africa, the Under-Secretary-General replied that major donors had been assuring the United Nations that their contributions to the crisis in and around Kosovo in recent months were additional to what they had already set aside for the crisis in the Balkans, as well as needs in Africa and on other continents. However, he was aware that the very high level of attention and solidarity towards Kosovo would inevitably distract capitals, ministries of finance and resources from crises elsewhere in the world.
How long would humanitarian operations continue in Africa with the resources available? another journalist asked.
The Under Secretary-General said that varied from country to country. Humanitarian activities would continue, but at a reduced operational level, delivering less assistance than was required and therefore only targeting part of the needy population. That was simply unacceptable.
Another correspondent asked why the tremendous instability in Kosovo had not stopped donors from investing there?
Mr. Vieira de Mello replied that the donors were investing in refugees in the neighbouring countries. Since 10 June there had been great sympathy, and donors would be investing inside Kosovo even though the situation there was still insecure. Proximity, visibility and strategic interests could explain why the response to the Kosovo appeal had been much more generous than the ones for Angola and other countries in Africa.
The United Republic of Tanzania had apparently been at peace, another journalist said. What and how much did it need?
The Under-Secretary-General said the country was hosting some 350,000 Burundian refugees. It had also been seriously affected by floods last year and this year. Needs in the country included a response to floods in recent months.
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