Iraq: donor funding woefully short to counter massive displacements, UN agency warns

Iraq: donor funding woefully short to counter massive displacements, UN agency warns

Facing massive numbers of people being displaced in Iraq and an equally massive funding shortfall, the United Nations refugee agency today voiced increasing alarm at the incessant violence in the country and the lack of an international humanitarian response.

“We fear hundreds of thousands more Iraqis who have waited to see an improvement in the situation are now teetering on the brink of displacement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, noting that there are at least at least 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

There are up to 1.8 million Iraqis in neighbouring states and while many fled before the 2003 United States-led invasion an increasing number are fleeing now, he said.

“We had initially prepared for in 2002-03,” he added, reporting on a briefing UNHCR gave donor governments in Geneva yesterday. “Yet we’re sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced and increasingly desperate Iraqis needing help both within and outside their country.”

As part of its preparations for a possible exodus of up to 600,000 refugees in 2002-03, UNHCR had originally set a budget of $154 million. “Today, we are faced with hundreds of thousands more displaced than we had planned for then, but have a $29 million budget that is only about 60 per cent funded,” Mr. Redmond said.

“In fact, we have already had to suspend a number of crucial activities – to the extent that some of our staff in the region are volunteering to forego their salaries for the next two months just to keep some of these projects going.”

While the international community has provided billions of dollars in funding for recovery and development programmes, many of which have not been implemented because of security concerns, humanitarian programmes inside Iraq and in neighbouring states remain neglected. “We’re now calling for a renewed focus on the humanitarian crisis in the region,” Mr. Redmond declared.

“The enormous scale of the needs, the ongoing violence and the difficulties in reaching the displaced make it a problem that is practically beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR,” he added, reiterating a warning he delivered last month.

“And the longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets as both the internally displaced and their host communities in Iraq run out of resources,” he said, noting that some 425,000 Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq this year alone, with internal displacement now running at a rate of some 50,000 a month.