Press conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on humanitarian crises in Africa, Middle East

from UN Department of Public Information
Published on 24 Jul 2007
John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, this afternoon urged a timely donor response to a flash appeal launched today for drought relief in Swaziland.

"There are great worries of severe malnutrition if we don't act now," Mr. Holmes said of the crisis in the Southern African country, hardest hit by a drought that has also severely affected Lesotho, Zimbabwe and parts of Mozambique. "The crisis has not yet struck, but we can see it coming because of the very poor harvest and the drought," he added during a Headquarters press conference on humanitarian crises in Africa and the Middle East.

He explained that Swaziland had suffered its worst recorded harvest, which was endangering about 400,000 people in a situation exacerbated by high HIV-infection rates and the vulnerability of many young orphans. "I very much hope that donors will respond generously to the flash appeal and indeed to the separate flash appeal we'll be launching for Lesotho."

The Government of Swaziland had declared a national emergency and pledged $23.6 million in assistance, he said. The flash appeal would add $15.6 million in immediate aid for the next few months, in efforts kicked-started by $3 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for life-saving food and agricultural programmes. Relief priorities in Swaziland would be food and agricultural help, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation, in addition to livelihood protection in the longer term.

In Lesotho, the most severe drought in 30 years had caused the country's maize harvest to plunge some 40 per cent, endangering a fifth of the population, he said. A flash appeal would be launched in the next few days. As for Zimbabwe, where an estimated 4 million people needed food assistance, an existing consolidated appeal for $241 million in assistance was about half funded and would now be reviewed in light of the new needs.

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said underfunded aid efforts remained challenged by a mixture of such chronic problems as food insecurity and lack of services, and acute problems like conflict and disease. Though the war-displaced had started to return in some areas of the country, displacement and gender violence had spiked again in North Kivu Province, where it was feared that renewed fighting would have severe consequences. The $680 million 2007 consolidated appeal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo was only one-third funded.

On other topics, Mr. Holmes applauded yesterday's decision by European ministers to consider deploying a military force to Chad, noting that the situation in that country had deteriorated rapidly this year, and where 230,000 Sudanese refugees and 170,000 internally displaced people were plagued by insecurity and a lack of basic services.

Turning to the Middle East, he said basic humanitarian supplies were getting through to Gaza, but the continued closure of crossing points continued to exacerbate the economic crisis. Eighty per cent of employers there were already shut down and there were fears that all of Gaza's 1.5 million residents would soon be dependent on aid.

In response to a correspondent's query about Zimbabwe, he said the Government was adequately -- though not perfectly -- cooperating with agencies in the area of food aid.

Responding to questions about other situations, he said there was no blanket blockade on humanitarian aid to the eastern Ogaden region of Ethiopia, but neither was there full access to all regions, owing to the fighting. Access to additional areas was being negotiated with the Ethiopian Government. Allegations of large-scale diversion of health aid funds in that region had not as yet been substantiated, but the World Health Organization (WHO) was investigating with assistance from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

On questions about Somalia, he said OCHA was constantly talking to the Transitional Federal Government in hopes of gaining access to the estimated 400,000 people who had fled Mogadishu. However, the continuing violence and the Transitional Federal Government's lack of control over much territory posed great difficulty, and many aid agencies were forced to enlist various kinds of armed security.

For information media - not an official record