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Red Cross braces for funding cut from financial crisis

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Johannesburg_(dpa) _ The Red Cross is starting to look at how to cut costs ahead of an expected fall-off in funding in the wake of the global financial crisis, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said Sunday.

"If it continues, if there is no turnaround fairly quickly, it (the financial crisis) will have a serious impact (on funding), no doubt," Bekele Geleta said in an interview in Johannesburg on the eve of a three-day meeting of Africa's 53 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

The IFRC's annual funding varies between 400 million to several billion Swiss francs a year, depending on the number and magnitude of the crises in which it intervenes.

"We will have to start considering how to cut costs," he said, adding jobs at the IFRC could also be on the line. "We have to be as creative as we can to minimize the impact (of a global slowdown) on the vulnerable," Ethiopia-born Geleta said.

The Red Cross societies in Africa meet every four years to discuss strategy. This year's summit is being held under the theme Believe in Africa.

The IFRC points to strong growth in Africa, which the African Development Banks says averaged 7 per cent over the past decade, and improved governance in many parts of Africa in trying to counter the image of a continent plagued by instability and crises.

While the bottom has been falling out of the world's stock markets in recent weeks, Africa has been relatively untouched, mainly because of its limited exposure to international markets.

But many experts fear the worst has yet to come. Already, the effects of slower global growth is being felt through reduced demand for the commodities like copper and platinum that prop up many African economies. Hard times in the northern hemisphere is also expected to result in increased protectionism, hitting African exports and jobs.

"Those on the border in terms of income - those who are marginally surviving - would sink if their jobs aren't there," Geleta warned.

Compounding this vulnerability are rising food prices and the effects of climate change. Disasters such as drought and flooding were becoming "more intense and more frequent," according to Geleta.

While Western governments will come under pressure now to prioritize their own citizens over people in the developing world, "governments can change their priorities to change lives," he said. Wealthy Africans and the African diaspora could also give more aid.

Geleta cited the drought in the Horn of Africa, the food crisis in Zimbabwe and the HIV/AIDS pandemic as among the Red Cross's top priorities on the continent.

In his native Ethiopia, aid agencies are warning of another large-scale famine as rising food prices and drought rob millions of a daily meal but Geleta says there is "no comparison" with the 1984/1985 famine. "I don't think we've reached that kind of stage."

In Zimbabwe, however, where around half the population of 12 million are expected to need food aid by January and the Red Cross is feeding around 260,000 people, Geleta describes the situation as "extremely urgent." dpa cb ds

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