Afghanistan + 14 more

Humanitarian favouritism' threatens lives of most needy

Wednesday, 22 December 1999: Humanitarian favouritism is threatening the lives and future of the most needy children and women in the developing world, UNICEF warned today at the launch of its annual humanitarian appeal for children and women in countries in crisis.
The children's agency urged the donor community to take a second look at recent patterns in emergency giving that have substantially funded publicized crisis spots while leaving several of the world's most disadvantaged countries wanting.

As part of a co-ordinated United Nations effort, UNICEF is requesting $229.5 million from donor nations to deliver vital services such as immunization, resumption of schooling, and trauma counselling to children and women in 16 countries or territories caught in armed conflict or ravaged by natural disaster. These are places that very often are beset by extreme poverty and challenges such as HIV/AIDS, as well.

Priorities highlighted in UNICEF's appeal for 2000 include:

  • A massive effort to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000;
  • Assistance to at least 1 million children orphaned or separated from parents;
  • Programmes to serve the estimated 10 million children who are suffering trauma from armed conflict, cruelty and displacement; Campaigns to prevent epidemics of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, and combating malaria and acute respiratory infections; and
  • An end to the targeting of children and women in armed conflicts and guaranteeing a secure environment for humanitarian access.

In announcing the appeal, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy cautioned against imbalance in the allocation of humanitarian aid, noting that of UNICEF's $334 million in emergency appeals for 1999 only $220 million had been received as of last week (66 per cent). For seven of the neediest countries, actual funding ranged from only 17 to 44 per cent of the amounts sought.

The most under-funded of UNICEF's emergency humanitarian appeals in 1999, with percentage of funding, were for Afghanistan (41%), Angola (36%), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (30%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (43%), Eritrea (22%), Tajikistan (44%) and Uganda (17%).

UNICEF allocated $14.25 million in regular resources to the least-assisted countries this year in a partial effort to compensate for the shortfall in the appeals.

"The fact that these nations get short shrift year after year is ironic," Ms. Bellamy said, "because some of the greatest efforts and achievements are to be found in these same countries. Angola is an example. More than 4 million children were vaccinated against polio this year alone. But at the same time, without adequate funding, outbreaks of meningitis and measles could go unchecked, and outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases may not be addressed," she said. "With adequate, equitable funding, much more could be done."

By contrast, Kosovo, Turkey and East Timor all received nearly as much or more than the amounts requested in 1999 to deal with the emergencies each country faced -- a display of generosity for which Ms. Bellamy thanked government and individual donors. But she added: "The message for the future is that we cannot be content with a pattern that could be construed as humanitarian favoritism. If leaders at every level become committed to levelling the playing field for the world's children, we could undo a sad situation in which life-saving resources are being denied to precisely the most vulnerable."

The UNICEF chief said that one reason for donor discrepancies may be an unconscious favoritism toward new emergencies rather than seemingly intractable ongoing crises. But, she said, the "stamina of those who relieve suffering must be equal to the stamina of the forces that create suffering."

"Let's not forget what this appeal is really about," Ms. Bellamy added. "It's about displaced children freezing right now in Afghanistan and Chechnya; children who are not getting enough food in North Korea and the Republic of Congo, whose safety and welfare is threatened in West Timor; young people who are being dragged into wars in central Africa or who have just been released from their grisly bondage as child soldiers. This appeal is about the suffering of innocent children everywhere, and the opportunity we have to improve their lives. It doesn't take much."

Ms. Bellamy noted that recent relief efforts in Kosovo and Turkey demonstrated that an emphasis on education and psychosocial interventions is an excellent strategy for stabilizing the situation of children in crisis. "By creating child-friendly spaces, UNICEF is providing islands of normalcy in environments where the fabric of life has been literally ripped apart," she said. "We need support to spread this kind of success."

UNICEF's appeal document, entitled "Humanitarian Appeal for Children and Women, 2000," provides details of the relief programs the agency intends to carry out in 16 countries, territories or regions together with United Nations and non-governmental partners. Targeted are: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, DPRK, DRC, East Timor, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, the Russian Federation (North Caucasus), Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Southeastern Europe, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan and Uganda.

In issuing the appeal for funding, UNICEF reiterated a call it made earlier this year regarding the safety of humanitarian workers. Noting that two UNICEF staff members were killed this year while working to provide humanitarian relief, the organization called on governments around the world to make the safety and security of aid workers as much a priority as the relief itself.

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1999/62

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