Foreign officials fear cuts in aid

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GENEVA | Humanitarian aid officials fear that rich nations will slash foreign aid budgets next year because of the financial meltdown, putting at risk millions of vulnerable people in need of life-saving assistance.

“The global financial crisis has raised inevitable concerns that there could be a decline in humanitarian funding for 2009. I urge member states and private donors not to let that happen,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in launching an appeal for $7 billion.

The appeal is 40 percent more than last year, and it is intended to help 30 million people in 31 countries, Mr. Ban said Wednesday.

It is earmarked to help victims of war, natural disasters and soaring food prices by providing food, health care, safe water and sanitation, shelter and other services.

Sudan would receive $2.1 billion, Somalia $919 million, Congo $831 million, Zimbabwe $550 million, Iraq and its neighbors $547 million, and the Palestinian territories $462 million.

John Holmes, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, wants to feed 2.3 million people in Congo and help 4.5 million in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur.

In addition, he hopes to assist 1 million refugees in eastern Chad and help support millions of Iraqi refugees and 1.5 million Palestinians.

At a time when rich governments have collectively injected more than $3 trillion into troubled financial markets, Mr. Holmes urged donor nations not to forget their aid commitments.

“This must not happen, not in 2009 nor thereafter, because the needs of the most vulnerable are not likely to decrease in the coming years,” he said.

“As an international community and as human beings … we must continue to respond generously to the needs of the most desperate among us,” Mr. Holmes said.

Hilde Frafjord Johnson, deputy executive director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), said women and children were in danger of being hit by cuts in donor assistance.

“What we want to avoid is a situation where those who are least responsible for what is happening pay the highest price at the end. That is the danger,” she said.

Encho Gospodinov, director of policy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said his and other humanitarian organizations face a difficult year.

“We have 2 billion people that live below the poverty line and we have pockets of vulnerability in Africa, in Asia, in the Caribbean, where people … suffer, and they suffer very badly,” he said.

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