UN Fighting Losing Battle Over Global Humanitarian Crises
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 27 2016 (IPS) – As the global refugee crises continues to worsen by the hour, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is quick to point out that when he took office in January 2007, the international appeal for funds for humanitarian emergencies was only about 4.0 billion dollars annually.
“Now, we need more than 20 billion dollars,” he said last week, underlining the tragic turn of events worldwide: over 60 million people either displaced internally or who have fled their home countries becoming refugees virtually overnight.
And there are about 40 countries – out of the 193 UN member states – which are engulfed in “high-level, medium-level and low-level crises and violence,” he added.
A new study by Oxfam International, titled “Righting the Wrong,” says tens of millions of people receive vital humanitarian aid every year, but millions more suffer without adequate help and protection, and their number is relentlessly rising.
“Far too often their suffering is because their governments cannot, or intentionally will not, ensure their citizens’ access to aid and protection.”
In addition, says the study released January 26, international aid has not kept pace with the rising tide of climate-related disasters and seemingly intractable conflicts, and promises to help affected people reduce their vulnerability to future disasters and lead their own humanitarian response have not yet been kept.
As a result of the growing crises, the United Nations and several of its agencies continue to put out appeals for funds with monotonous regularity, but the responses are few and far between.
The largest single funding appeal is for Syria – amounting to over $3.2 billion for 2016 – as it struggles with a five year old conflict where more than 220,000 have been killed, 7.6 million displaced and nearly 4.0 million described as refugees.
The UN children’s fund UNICEF has appealed for $2.8 billion to provide assistance to about 43 million refugee children worldwide; the World Health Organisation (WHO) is seeking $76 million to meet the health emergencies arising from El Nino which has triggered disease outbreaks and water shortages affecting about 60 million people in seven high-risk countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.
At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) is appealing for $41 million to feed nearly 2.5 million people facing hunger in the Central African Republic.
Last week the UN launched an $885 million plan to meet the needs of 30,000 Yemenis fleeing their war-ravaged country into Somalia—with more expected in 2016.
And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, along with 65 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), last week appealed for $550 million for food, water, shelter and medical care for refugees making their way to Europe.
In Syria, both government and rebel forces have blocked humanitarian access to parts of the country depriving food and water to nearly 181,000 residents in besieged towns and villages, while 4.5 million Syrians live in”hard-to-reach” areas.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said using starvation as a tool of war is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes.
The Oxfam study says the international humanitarian system—the vast UN-led network in which Oxfam and other international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, and others play key roles—is not saving as many lives as it could because of deep design flaws that perpetuate an unsustainable reliance by aid recipients on international donors.
Despite these flaws, much has been accomplished in the past 70 years.
“Courageous aid workers have saved thousands of lives and provided vital services such as health care, water, and protection to millions. “
“But today’s system is overstretched, and humanitarian assistance is often insufficient, late, and inappropriate for the local context,” warns Oxfam.
Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in order to create a stronger and more sustainable funding base for UN humanitarian appeals, “we are seeking commitments to regular contributions from at least 10 new nations.”
“In tandem with that effort, we will seek at least a 30 percent increase in financing for global humanitarian appeals, from $10 billion in 2015 to $13 billion this year,” he added.
Asked for a response, Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser told IPS Kerry’s comments about the United States renewed focus on strengthening the international response to the global refugee crisis show critical leadership and Oxfam welcomes them.
The refugee crisis is being brought on by the seemingly intractable conflicts raging as well as increasing natural disasters and climate change, which is being further exacerbated by this year’s Super El Nino.
We must also work together to address the root causes of the refugee crisis and invest more in making sure communities are better able to respond when disaster strikes.
Oxfam has been calling for the international community to meet appeals, resettle refugees, and allow refugees to work and do more to support countries hosting refugees.
We need to look beyond the issue of resettlement, which is vitally important, to holistically address what we can do to improve the situation for refugees and their host communities.
In terms of employment, the international community needs to do more to work with countries to develop policies that allow refugees to support themselves financially and contribute to the economy of their host community. It is in everyone’s best interest for refugees to be able to find stable and legal employment – not only is it their right to work, it will lead to more successful and stable communities.
In its study, Oxfam asks: “How do we right this wrong?”
By shifting more power, resources, and responsibility from the international actors—UN agencies, wealthy donor countries, large INGOs, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement—to local actors, including Red Cross/Red Crescent local chapters, national governments, national NGOs, local NGOs, community-based groups, and other civil society organizations.
It’s a huge task, admits Oxfam. But today, only a small fraction of funding is given directly to local actors.
More often, local humanitarian aid workers take direction from the international humanitarian community, which tends to relegate them to the role of subcontractors, rather than equal partners.
This role leaves the local actors in no better position to prevent or respond to the next crisis.
In addition, donors and national governments are investing too little in prevention and risk reduction efforts that could diminish the need for humanitarian response, Oxfam said.
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