G-77 laments decline in funds for humanitarian emergencies

UNITED NATIONS, July -- The Group of 77 has lamented the fact that there has been a gradual decline of financial resources for humanitarian emergencies.

The Group has expressed concern that appeals to the international community for humanitarian assistance, both for victims of conflict and natural disasters, continue to have little positive response.

"This fact is most acutely reflected in the response to the Consolidated Appeals issued by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is reported down to 15 percent, from the previous year's figure of 30 percent," the chairman of the Group of 77 said.

Ambassador Makarim Wibisono of Indonesia told ECOSOC that the Group finds it particularly troubling that in some instances humanitarian assistance has been hindered because the crisis has not been sensational enough to capture the attention of the international media and thereby merit a response.

He underlined the necessity to avoid responses which are motivated purely for political reasons. Even the perception of such a motivation, he said, could severely undermine the initiative.

He also said there is a gap between relief and development. Humanitarian responses should be undertaken with a longer-term view of rehabilitation, he added.

The United Nations, he said, is being increasingly called upon to respond to natural disasters and environmental emergencies throughout the world.

Meanwhile, in a report to ECOSOC, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the number, and scale, of environmental emergencies throughout the world are increasing at an alarming rate.

"Large scale disasters are striking whole regions,'' said Annan whose warning is backed by an appeal for increased international assistance to cope with the growing new crisis.

In his report, Annan said the rash of recent natural disasters include floods in the Horn of Africa and central and eastern Europe, forest fires in Indonesia and Brazil, landslides in Latin America and the Caribbean, drought in North Korea and earthquakes in Iran.
These emergencies have either displaced or rendered homeless more than 20 million people worldwide.

This is a ''major challenge to the international community,'' said Annan, who has complained that in many of these situations, humanitarian needs have not been effectively met.

In the 12 months to early 1998, the United Nations provided assistance to 51 member states in their efforts to cope with the devastating impact of 77 natural disasters and environmental emergencies.

The most recent is the deadly tidal wave in Papua New Guinea last week whose death toll is estimated at more than 2,000 people, with an additional 4,500 homeless.

From September to November 1997, parts of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand were seriously affected by dense haze stemming primarily from large-scale forest fires in Indonesia.

These fires were, in turn, caused by using fire and land clearing, and aggravated by the El-Nino induced drought conditions. The overall area under fire was about two million hectares.

The floods in the Horn of Africa affected up to one million people in Somalia alone where the death toll exceeded 2,000. Torrential rains over central and eastern Europe in July 1997 resulted in unprecedented flooding over large areas of the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, directly affecting some five million people. In North Korea, drought conditions led to a devastating famine.

The UN report also notes that the Latin American and Caribbean region has suffered the consequences of ''the unusually strong impact of the El-Nino phenomenon.''

In Ecuador, floods, sea surges and mudslides have affected the coastal region since September 1997. The damage to the country's infrastructure has been estimated at 300 million dollars.

In Peru, similarly unusual weather conditions have, since the end of 1997, produced heavy rains resulting in flooding and landslides in the northern, central and southern parts of the country.

A state of emergency was declared in over half the country. Iran, on the other hand, suffered a series of earthquakes early in 1997, a third of which, in South Khorasan, was the most damaging. More than 1,500 people lost their lives and some 50,000 were left homeless.

''Several countries have also suffered severe environmental damage as a result of the prolonged stay on their territory of refugees from conflicts in neighbouring countries,'' the report points out.

These include deforestation, pollution of water sources, loss of agricultural land and consequent population pressure in areas unable to sustain it and thereby ''creating long-lasting problems which have received insufficient attention from the international community.''

In February, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that agricultural production in at least six African countries - Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea - has been devastated by the El Nino weather pattern.

The collapse of food production had led to food shortages, and FAO has estimated that some 10 million people currently require emergency assistance in eastern Africa.
Annan said that while emergencies continue to rise, contributions from donors have declined. Of the total funding requirements of 2.8 billion dollars in 1994, for example, nearly 80 percent was made available by donors.

By 1997, the funding requirements declined to 1.7 billion dollars, but donor contributions amounted to only 62 percent of the targeted needs.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the largest funding agencies for humanitarian emergencies, also has complained of declining funds. As of May 1998, UNHCR received only half of its annual budget of 1.1 billion dollars.
''UNHCR depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions to finance its activities, but the resources available to us have become increasingly scarce and unpredictable,'' Sadako Ogata, head of UNHCR stated recently. (IPS)