UN faces $5 billion budget gap for its 2010 humanitarian efforts

UN faces $5 billion budget gap for its 2010 humanitarian efforts

United Nations agencies and their partners are facing a nearly $5 billion shortfall this year in responding to humanitarian crises spanning the globe, it was announced today.

The appeals to help 53 million people in 34 countries – amounting to a total of $9.5 billion – are so far only nearly half funded. The inflow of resources for 2010 is only lagging slightly behind that of recent years, despite earlier fears that the global recession would sap resources earmarked for disasters.

“Maintaining humanitarian aid budgets this year in the face of recession and budgets has been a real achievement by many donors,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said at today’s launch of the Humanitarian Appeal Mid-Year Review for 2010.

“We now ask you to persist in this effort to ensure that people struck by disaster or conflict receive the help they need for the rest of the year to stay alive, avoid recoverable harm, and restore dignity and basic self-sufficiency,” he added in his address to Member States at UN Headquarters in New York.

It had also been feared that the major donations to Haiti following the catastrophic January earthquake would affect funding for other crises, but the effect was slight.

Mr. Holmes, who visited the impoverished Caribbean nation just yesterday, said that he saw first-hand “that further significant sums are needed to continue meeting humanitarian needs sufficiently through 2010,” pointing to such challenges as upgrading shelter for 1.5 million people.

The original global 2010 appeals, launched last November, sought $7.1 billion, but that figure has climbed to $9.5 billion due to new crises, such as the Haiti earthquake. Also contributing to the increase are deteriorating situations in areas such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sahel, especially Niger, which is in the throes of a severe and large-scale food crisis.

Among the individual appeals that have received the greatest proportion of funding are Haiti, where 64 per cent of the nearly $1.5 billion needed has been received; Afghanistan, which has received 62 per cent of the $77 million called for; and Somalia, with 56 per cent of the $60 million needed.

But an $18 million appeal for Mongolia is only 10 per cent funded so far. The Asian nation has been hard hit by a dzud, a complex, natural disaster in which a summer drought is followed by heavy snowfalls and unusually low temperatures in winter, and then by a dangerous spring thaw.

So far, the livelihoods of nearly 9,000 Mongolian families – who rely on their livestock for income, food and fuel – have been destroyed. More than 7.5 million animals, over 17 per cent of the country’s total livestock head, have died, according to humanitarian agencies.

In a separate speech to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today, Mr. Holmes noted that humanitarian needs triggered by disasters, including slow-onset disasters such as drought and flooding, as well as conflict and others factors, reflect how “humanitarian needs are greater now than ever.”

He added that “our worst-case projections of where humanitarian trends might go in the next few years are materializing.”

Despite the improvement in the humanitarian situation in countries such as Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, Mr. Holmes said that significant assistance will still be needed for these nations in the immediate future.

“There are nevertheless a few places where we have been able to close or reduce OCHA’s [the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] presence because, even though the situation remains fragile, humanitarian needs have declined significantly,” he said, referring to Timor-Leste, Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda.

“The main good news is that the humanitarian architecture put in place in recent years is helping us cope,” said the official, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. Sectoral coordination has been enhanced, partnerships are stronger, financing is faster and more reliable, with leadership on the ground becoming more effective, he noted.

But with humanitarian needs growing rapidly, he said that the traditional so-called “humanitarian toolbox” will become increasingly insufficient to address and to change these situations.

For example, climate change will result in long-term vulnerability in the shape of malnutrition, disease and mortality. “However, without any trigger event, how will we decide when to launch a response or at which point emergency responses should end?” he asked.

In the future, Mr. Holmes stressed, it will be vital to identify up front where needs could be imminent and avert oncoming crises, instead of responding after the fact.

He also voiced great concern at the rise in attacks – which are increasingly frequent and brutal – on aid workers, as humanitarian needs are growing.

“The sad truth is that, in some areas, a UN, NGO [non-governmental organization] or even in some instances a Red Cross/Red Crescent flag no longer offers protection for those flying it, but instead invites attack,” the Under-Secretary-General observed.

He told the humanitarian affairs segment of ECOSOC’s annual substantive session that 2009 was statistically the deadliest year ever for aid workers, calling for increased focus on this “complex and sensitive” issue.

Mr. Holmes emphasized the need for readiness to engage in dialogue with any and all groups – including Hamas in Gaza and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan – to ensure the effectiveness and safety of humanitarian operations, as well as to access those in need of help.

But he pointed out that “negotiating access should not and must not be confused with political negotiations, and certainly does not confer respectability or legitimacy.”