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UNHCR chief Guterres urges support for 2009 Humanitarian Appeal

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, November 24 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, representing the United Nations system, on Monday appealed to the international community to help meet the needs of tens of millions of the world's most vulnerable people.

As keynote speaker at the launch of the 2009 Humanitarian Appeal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Guterres said US$7 billion was needed by UN agencies and some 360 different non-governmental organizations to care for 30 million people in 31 countries around the world next year.

"At this moment, millions of people across the world are experiencing insecurity as their daily reality - war and natural disasters - threaten their existence," he said in prepared remarks for Monday night's appeal launch. "They don't have access to the essentials of life, including clean water, heath care and shelter. Given the sheer scale of the task ahead, it is clear that no single organization, government or donor can tackle it alone."

Speaking to reporters earlier, the High Commissioner said that compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent by governments worldwide on rescuing financial institutions, the amount being sought by humanitarian agencies was relatively limited.

"I do not know any bank whose rescue was less than US$7 billion," Guterres said. "I believe when the world is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue the financial system, it's a moral obligation that the same determination is shown to rescue people around the world who are victims of conflict, victims of natural disasters, victims of the modern trend of climate change and extreme poverty."

Quoting from a Bob Marley song, Guterres said "a hungry man is an angry man." Humanitarian support is not just a question of charity, he added, but shows enlightened self-interest by those who understand that such support is the best way to preserve world peace.

The Abu Dhabi launch, the first in the region, was hosted by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE and president of the UAE Red Crescent. Guterres thanked Sheikh Hamdan for reaffirming his country's commitment to the plight of millions of people in need.

"The United Arab Emirates, a country with a long tradition of generosity and support for humanitarian causes and Islam, is a solid foundation for international refugee law," said Guterres. "All the norms that form today the basis of international law come from the Islamic values and traditions. The civilian character of asylum is intrinsic to Islamic values."

The 2009 Humanitarian Appeal is the largest since the creation of the Consolidated Appeal Process in 1991. It comprises 12 appeals for the Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and region, Kenya, the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, the West African region and Zimbabwe.

By Abeer Etefa and Ron Redmond
In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates