Famine ‘on our doorstep’ in Somalia, says UN aid chief

NEW YORK CITY/BOGOTA, Colombia: Growing humanitarian needs and a focus on Ukraine have left aid agencies too little money to deal with other pressing crises around the world, especially the deteriorating situation in countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

Humanitarian aid agencies working in conflict and disaster areas around the world need $48.7 billion in 2022 to help more than 200 million people, according to the UN. But eight months into the year, they’ve raised barely a third of that number.

In part, this lack of funding is the result of the scale of human needs across the world at present, concurrent wars, weather disasters, financial crises, and the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, another major factor draining humanitarian coffers is the war in Ukraine, which has dominated Western governments’ foreign aid agenda since Russia launched its invasion in February.

The UN has appealed for more than $6 billion from its donors this year to help Ukrainians displaced or affected by the fighting. Its first appeal for Ukraine raised more than the requested amount, and its second is on track to be fully funded.

Refugees from Ukraine attend a job fair for Ukrainians organized by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK) in Berlin on June 2, 2022. (AFP)

By contrast, aid programs in other disaster hotspots around the world, from Iraq, Syria and Yemen to the Middle East; DRC, Ethiopia and South Sudan in Africa; Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar in South Asia; and Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela in Latin America have collected only a fraction of what is needed, delaying their relief efforts.

“I am deeply concerned about the irreversible damage caused by chronic underfunding,” said Joyce Msuya, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, to a UN security official. Council briefing on the situation in Syria on 29 August.

“This could jeopardize life-saving assistance and reduce investments in livelihoods and essential services. Lack of funding has serious consequences, including more school dropouts, higher malnutrition rates and fewer protective interventions.

Children stand next to a tent at a flooded camp for Syrians displaced by the conflict near the village of Kafr Uruq in Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province on January 17, 2021. (AFP file)

Regarding her mandate in Syria, she added: “If we don’t act now, a generation of Syrian children could be lost.

Indeed, aid budgets have been cut for projects in Syria and to help refugees hosted by neighboring countries. This despite the recent increase in violence in northern Syria, including the northern Aleppo countryside and the Kurdish-held northeast, the ongoing displacement crisis and growing humanitarian needs, all in an impasse in the political process and the near economic ruin of the regime.

Some observers have accused Western donor countries, which provide the bulk of aid funding, of ‘double standards’ or even outright racism for lavishing money on projects helping mostly compatriots white and Christian Europeans caught up in the Ukraine crisis, while starving projects in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America of much-needed support.

“From Bangladesh to Colombia, we have a dozen operations where I am very concerned about underfunding,” Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told a news conference in London. July. “It’s important to hammer home and hammer home the message that Ukraine cannot be the only humanitarian response.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus caused a diplomatic stir in April when he accused the international community of double standards in response to crises affecting different races.

Refugees rest in the shade of a makeshift tent in the town of Semera in Ethiopia’s Afar region on February 14, 2022. (AFP)

Ghebreyesus, who is Ethiopian, said the world treated humanitarian crises affecting the lives of black and white people unequally, with only a “fraction” of attention given to Ukraine elsewhere.

He said more attention had been given to the war in Ukraine while needs elsewhere, including in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, were not taken seriously. The conflict in Tigray, which began in November 2020, has left thousands dead and millions displaced.

“I don’t know if the world really pays the same attention to black and white lives,” Tedros told reporters at a news conference. “All the attention given to Ukraine is of course very important, because it has an impact on the whole world.

Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region transport building materials using a donkey cart, at Umm Rakuba camp in Gedaref state, eastern Sudan. (AFP)

“But even a fraction of it is not given to Tigray, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria and the rest. I have to be upfront and honest about the fact that not everyone treats the human race the same. Some are more equal than others. And when I say that, it hurts me. Because I see it. Very difficult to accept but it is done.

While the war in Ukraine presents a clear geopolitical emergency for Western donors, directly affecting their national interests, not to mention the 6 million Ukrainians hosted by neighboring European countries, it has raised concerns about the politicization of aid .

Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, rejects the idea of ​​an institutional double standard in favor of Ukrainians over other races or national backgrounds, but admits he is concerned about the limited funding currently available to other disaster areas around the world.

Ukrainian refugees listen to a music band during a concert at the Humanitarian Aid Center set up in the Global Expo exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on July 15, 2022. (AFP)

“It’s not new, the idea that there is a limited bandwidth of attention internationally. Ukraine didn’t write the book about it, although it was certainly an extraordinarily provoked crisis for us,” Griffiths told Arab News.

“The international community’s cycle of attention is really, really limited on the topic of the day, and Ukraine has taken that position understandably. I don’t think it’s a double standard, it’s understandable.

“We worry about funding because we worried all along whether member states that provide humanitarian funding would have less money to give to Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and other places. And the evidence on this is still a bit conflicting.

Displaced Syrians from Ras al-Ain, a border town controlled by Turkey and its Syrian proxies, are pictured in Washukanni camp in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeast Syria. (AFP)

“Certainly, in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine, most donors protected the funding they already had for non-Ukrainian conflicts. Over time, we started to see this erosion.

“I never refer to it as a double standard, but I do wonder if the attention is enough and the priority is enough for people elsewhere.”

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, insists the aid response elsewhere in the world has not been deliberately neglected in favor of Ukraine.

“The general secretary must be multitasking. Just because he’s focused on Ukraine doesn’t mean he’s not dealing with other crises,” Dujarric told Arab News.

Thousands of people, forced from their homes since the October 2019 Turkish offensive on the Syrian-Turkish border, live in informal settlements in Kurdish-controlled areas. (AFP)

“I think every day, almost every day, I talk about other humanitarian crises, and I always try to point out the lack of funding, which is tragic for all these people, not just the people in the camps in Iraq. or in Syria, but we know that the rations had to be cut at some point in Yemen or in the Horn of Africa because the money does not come in.

“And it’s not that the money isn’t there globally. We know there is money… Everyone tries to shake the tree. We need money for these humanitarian crises.

“When humanitarian appeals are funded at 10%, 20%, 30%, it means we don’t have enough money to feed people, to house them, to provide health services. »

Asked by Arab News whether donor countries could be accused of double standards in their aid funding priorities, Dujarric said: “I can’t speak to donor motivation or processes.

“Some Member States are extremely generous. Others, we believe, could be more generous. It’s just a fact. We also know that there is a lot of money in the private sector. There is a lot of money in the foundations. Money is not lacking in the world.

“What there is is a lack of money for people who are literally facing starvation. We understand that donors have competing needs and we understand that some donors may think it is more important to focus on crises that directly impact them. And we thank them for the donations for the people of Ukraine. Everyone who needs help deserves. We just want everyone to be helped.

Thousands of people, forced from their homes since the October 2019 Turkish offensive on the Syrian-Turkish border, live in informal settlements in Kurdish-controlled areas. (AFP)

In 2019, when the UN asked donors to provide $27.8 billion to fund all of its humanitarian programs, it fell more than $10 billion short of its target. In 2020, the target rose to $38.6 billion and the shortfall to $19.4 billion.

Although aid funding improved slightly in 2021, the target rose again in 2022 to $48.7 billion, about $8 billion more than the UN had forecast before. the beginning of the year. With barely half of this amount likely to be reached, it is the world’s most vulnerable who are likely to pay the price.

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