Interview: Economic crisis threatens aid donations - U.N.

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 25 Feb 2009 View Original
By Luis Jaime Acosta

QUIBDO, Colombia, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The global financial crisis could reduce United Nations' aid for victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said that while the organization's biggest humanitarian aid donors had promised to maintain their funding, future budgets may be squeezed as a result of the worldwide slowdown.

"We fear the economic and financial crisis will have an effect on the generosity of donor countries, and we also fear it will increase the number of people we need to help from a humanitarian point of view," the humanitarian affairs chief told Reuters in an interview.

Holmes spoke during a visit to Colombia's western Choco province, where recent floods have worsened the plight of poor villagers driven from their homes by a four-decade conflict involving leftist rebels and ex-paramilitary gangs.

The South American country will receive $8 million from the U.N.'s emergency relief fund this year, making it the fifth-biggest recipient of such aid after Zimbabwe, Somalia, North Korea and Ethiopia.

Colombia has three active volcanoes and is prone to seasonal flooding, but violence linked to the armed conflict and drug-trafficking add to the difficulties in rural areas.

The United Nations runs several projects for the roughly 2.5 million Colombians forced to flee their homes -- one of the world's biggest populations of internal refugees along with Sudan and Congo.

Holmes said the biggest state contributors to U.N. emergency aid had agreed to keep up their support, but warned that the coming months might see cutbacks by firms and individual donors.

"The main donor countries are maintaining their humanitarian budgets, at least for 2009. If they reduce their budgets we'll be able to meet less of their needs and it will mean less food, less clean water and less sanitation and less shelter for people affected by natural diasters," he said.

He warned that any aid cutbacks would end up widening the gap between rich and poor and urged countries to keep giving assistance despite the economic gloom.

"What we're saying ... is that this is no time to reduce your aid budgets," Holmes said. "It's the enlightened self-interest of those countries to maintain the donations."

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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