New UN office seeks to better address plight of 50 million uprooted people

20 July 2004
Dennis McNamara

Seeking to better address the plight of 50 million people around the world uprooted from their homes by war and other emergencies, the United Nations has created a new office to "fill in the gaps" that previous efforts failed to tackle, its director said today.

Those internally displaced persons (IDPs) "are the forgotten or neglected victims of conflict worldwide," Dennis McNamara, Special Adviser to the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator and Director of the Inter-agency Internal Displacement Division, told a press briefing in Geneva. "Displaced civilians remain a massive humanitarian crisis."

The new Division, established on 1 July, will focus on the six to eight major countries of displacement - Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Colombia, with access being negotiated for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sri Lanka - for the next year to 18 months.

Mr. McNamara noted that of the 21 conflicts raging worldwide, 18 of them were internal, so most of the population displacement - some 25 million people in all, about twice the size of the 13 million to 15 million global refugee population - is taking place without people crossing international borders. Another 25 million people have been displaced by natural disasters and development projects.

Those 50 million people probably matched or was more than the number of people around the globe suffering from AIDS, "but [they] get relatively minor international attention," Mr. McNamara said.

The Division was established to address the fact that no adequate inter-agency response to displacement existed, particularly for victims of war and human rights abuses, the most obvious recent example being in Darfur, Sudan, he added.

Even so, the gap in response was not a problem for agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alone, Mr. McNamara said, stressing that governments also bear responsibility since IDPs by definition were citizens in their own country and the host State often created conditions for displacement or responded inadequately to the phenomenon.

In addition, the international donor community was also at fault for response shortfalls: the UN's 2004 Consolidated Appeal (CAP) had asked for $5 billion and had received just $3.5 billion.

"The global humanitarian aid budget last year was $10 billion; the global military expenditure budget $800 billion - 80 times the amount of the global humanitarian aid budget," reflecting distorted priorities and the consequences of the inadequate humanitarian response, he said.

This was an "international shame, most obviously but not only in Darfur but also in many other countries with equal if not greater numbers (of IDPs) and equal human suffering," he said. "It must be addressed, it can be addressed if there is the political will and priority given to it both by the UN system and the responsible States."


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