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PRESS BRIEFING BY HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS OFFICE

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

3 June 2002

A review of humanitarian aid appeals had revealed that the major appeals, such as the one for Afghanistan, had not led to an overall increase in funding, but instead took money away from other appeals, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Addressing correspondents upon the completion of a mid-year review of consolidated inter-agency appeals, Mark Bowden, Chief, Policy Development and Studies Branch, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) explained that his Office, which was responsible for coordinating the financial response to disasters, undertook an exercise each year to plan how to anticipate and meet those needs, and to respond to humanitarian crises. The process, known as the "Consolidated Appeals Process", articulates a common strategy to respond to the most pressing humanitarian needs for each emergency. Currently, 19 countries had consolidated appeal programmes, covering approximately 33 million people.

Each year at mid-year, his branch undertook a review to evaluate that process, he said. This year, there was concern over a "major shortfall" in the amount of money that was being given to meet humanitarian needs overall. The present shortfall was estimated at approximately $2.2 billion, which meant that only 38.5 per cent of the $3.67 billion required had been forthcoming. Within the various appeals, there were winners and losers.

He said that Afghanistan had done reasonably well in performance terms, since 48 per cent of its integrated appeal had been met. That had not meant that there were not major problems being recorded by a number of the humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), which had reported pipeline problems in delivering food aid to Afghanistan. Moreover, with an integrated appeal, which sought to balance humanitarian need with longer-term need, it must be ensured that humanitarian needs were adequately met.

The results had been particularly worrying for several other countries, he continued. In many, such as in Sudan and Angola, where the opportunities existed to make considerable progress in meeting humanitarian needs, it had not been possible to make those gains, because the money just was not there. In Sudan, for example, where some progress had been made with ceasefire agreements, only 18 per cent of the consolidated appeal had been met. That really was not enough to be effective. Angola, Burundi and Guinea were other examples.

He said there appeared to be a pattern developing of a continued imbalance in appeals. The success of the Afghanistan appeal, to some extent, had been to the detriment of other appeals. So, the overall levels of humanitarian funding remained approximately the same; they were just redistributed. And, that was a cause for concern.

In Guinea, the shortage of funds had prevented a reduction of the risk of cholera and measles epidemics by precluding immunization campaigns, he said. In the Democratic Republic of Korea, low funding had placed severely malnourished children admitted to nutrition rehabilitation centres at risk of death due to a lack of drugs and foods. The issue of a more equitable distribution would be raised in the humanitarian segment of the upcoming session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Asked how the overall donations today compared to those in recent years, Mr. Bowden said there had been an overall decline in support for the consolidated appeal. That concern had been raised at the ECOSOC meetings last year, but that unsatisfactory situation had persisted. The situation was the same as last year, but "significantly worse" than five years ago.

Replying to a question about what was asked for and received in the cases of Angola and Sudan, he said that in the case of Sudan, some 18 per cent of the total requirement had been received. He did not have the list with him, but would make that available. On recall, he said Angola had received approximately 24 per cent of what had been appealed.

Responding to a request for clarification on the figures, he said the appeal had fallen short by $2.2 billion of the $3.6 billion. So, $1.4 billion had been received. Five years ago, nearly twice that number would have been received for the same appeal. He had been trying to identify the reasons for the decline. One argument had been that less money was going into the United Nations system and its partners and more was moving either bilaterally or through non-governmental organizations. The research seemed to suggest, however, that NGOs were experiencing the same levels of shortfall.

Historically, he replied to a related question, the overall appeal of $3.6 billion was not the highest on record; the peaks had been during the mid-1990s.

Were there specific countries cutting back on the assistance that they would normally contribute? another correspondent asked. He said there had been some redirections. The European Commission, for example, was moving money from its humanitarian funds into its rapid reaction programme, which was not strictly humanitarian. The Commission had had a 10 per cent budget reduction last year and would have another five per cent this year. And, the European Community was a very big player in humanitarian assistance.

With respect to a question about where the United States stood in that regard, he said that it remained the major donor of humanitarian assistance. Its humanitarian assistance had not grown in the last four or five years, however, although the terms had been more helpful. In addition, some "occasional contributors", such as France, were not contributing or were contributing less often. The decline was a result of the lack of increases in assistance by the major contributors -- the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission.

Responding to a question about Japan, he said he thought its assistance had stayed the same. It had not been a significant humanitarian contributor at the same level. The ECOSOC 2002 report highlighted the main contributors, and Japan was not in the top ten.

Asked how he defined the priority countries, he said that the appeals were done on a country-by-country basis, requiring each one to define and redefine its own priorities. The consolidated appeal process included a whole series of projects and proposals from the United Nations agencies and implementing partners.

In terms of contributions, that was a bit like "cherry picking", with the donors choosing which part of the appeal they wished to fund, he added. That led to difficult choices at the country level in terms of managing humanitarian assistance. As the coordinating body, OCHA could not redefine priorities; that was the job of the country.

He said that despite improvements made in the process over several years, and acknowledged by the donor community, the funding had not increased. The debate in the academic world was that perhaps there was more interest in bilateral arrangements, but that had not explained the overall shortages beginning to emerge in humanitarian assistance.

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