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Press conference on midyear review of 2008 humanitarian appeal

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The United Nations and other aid agencies still needed $3.6 billion to respond to the world's most severe humanitarian crises and disasters through their 2008 Consolidated and Flash Appeals, John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said this afternoon during a Headquarters press conference.

So far this year, international donors had given just 46 per cent, or $2.9 billion, of the $6.5 billion needed for humanitarian aid for 34 countries covered by 11 Consolidated Appeals and six Flash Appeals, Mr. Holmes told reporters following a midyear review meeting on the subject. That amount was the highest ever donated at the midyear point to the annual Consolidated Appeals Process and total funds were more evenly spread among the different appeals than in the past thanks to better coordination among donors and support from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). However, the remaining $3.6 billion was essential for saving thousands of lives.

'That means donors will need to dig deep into their pockets to try to find that money,' he said. 'It means also we'll need to continue to intensify the search for new donors from Governments and perhaps other sources, like the private sector, if we're going to meet these increasing needs from the effects of more natural disasters, long-running complex emergencies and the global food crisis.'

The rising cost of food and fuel had pushed up funding needs significantly since the beginning of the year, Mr. Holmes said. The biggest increase was for Somalia, where drought and conflict prompted aid agencies to call for $641 million, up from $235 million in December 2007. Funding for the Democratic Republic of the Congo was revised upward by $161 million to $736 million, for West Africa by $104 million to $416 million, for Myanmar by $294 million to $481 million, and for Zimbabwe by $78 million to $394 million. Funding requirements for the Sudan -- which accounted for the lion's share of all aid needs -- increased $81 million to $1.95 billion.

An unprecedented number of non-governmental organizations -- 1,212 in total -- were participating in the appeals projects, according to Mr. Holmes. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who also addressed the press conference, lauded the fact that an increasing number of the appeal projects took into consideration gender-based violence and other gender concerns that commonly occurred during conflict and natural disaster aftermaths.

During the ensuing question-and-answer period, a reporter asked why Ethiopia and Afghanistan were not included in the Consolidated Appeals. Mr. Holmes said their timescale fell outside the preparation of the appeals and that, in general, some countries were sensitive about being included in the appeals process for fear of being categorized as in a State of permanent humanitarian crisis.

Concerning his upcoming trip to Myanmar, Mr. Holmes said he planned first to travel to Singapore to participate in the 21 July launch of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and then to Myanmar to visit the Irrawaddy Delta, reassess the situation there resulting from Cyclone Nargis and meet with humanitarian actors and key Government officials.

A correspondent asked if humanitarian staff in Darfur were to be removed as a result of Monday's call by the International Criminal Court to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and last week's attack on United Nations peacekeepers in the Sudan. Mr. Holmes said that, as most humanitarian staff provided essential services, very few people were being evacuated. The United Nations, in general, was keeping a low profile during the last two or three days, but aimed to get back to full operations in Darfur as soon as possible.

Also speaking during the press conference, Rudy Von Bernuth, Emergency Coordinator of the International Save the Children Alliance, stressed that, in the wake of the recent cyclones in Bangladesh and Myanmar, in-country sustained disaster preparedness and disaster risk-reduction capacity could save hundreds of thousands of lives. A two-pronged approach involving disaster risk reduction for known threats and strategic preparation for less known threats was the best way to respond to future tragedies.

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