- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

GENEVA — The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is alarmed at the poor response to its annual fund-raising effort to help millions of people in 30 distressed countries.

A growing trend of some crisis areas’ being mostly ignored by donor countries while other troubled nations get the donations they need also is of concern to aid officials.

UNICEF data for 2003 show that funds received for targeted countries varied. Donations for Chechnya and the northern Caucasus were 102 percent of the target amount, funding for Sudan was 70 percent of the goal, and Afghanistan attracted 52 percent of the funding UNICEF sought. But Sierra Leone received only 35 percent, and contributors gave Guinea only 26 percent of what the agency had sought.

Similarly, the appeal for money to help Iraq received 97 percent of the $177 million sought.

“It’s really political,” said a senior U.N. official who requested anonymity.

“Humanitarian aid is now more political than in the past,” the official said, noting that the past five or six years also have seen a shift by some traditional donors such as the Nordic countries, which previously did not discriminate among countries asking for funds.

Suddenly, factors such as corruption or failure of donations to be spent as the donors specify affect how funds are allocated to needy countries, the official said, adding that the European Union “is now doing exactly the same.”

How high a crisis ranks on the global political agenda and in press interest also affects the flow of funds, humanitarian officials say.

A senior EU official disagreed, however, that aid decisions in Brussels are influenced heavily by political criteria.

“We base our actions on needs and do not react to donor appeals,” the official said.

In late February, UNICEF made a renewed appeal for $515.8 million after its November request for $376 million in emergency aid had raised only about $24 million, 6 percent of the request, and eight countries had received nothing.

“The voices of the many millions of children and women caught up in the horror of war are urgently calling upon us to act — we cannot fail to do so,” Carol Bellamy, the American executive director of UNICEF, said in issuing her agency’s Humanitarian Action Report 2004, outlining the needs of 30 nations in crisis.

These include Afghanistan, Burundi, Chechnya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Sudan, North Korea and the Palestinian-occupied territories.

The crises appeal does not include a call for more money for Iraq. The $177 million UNICEF received in its 2003 emergency appeal for Iraq “is enough for our operations in 2004,” said Daniel Toole, UNICEF director for emergency programs.

In the past decade, Mrs. Bellamy said, an estimated 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflict — more than three times that number have been seriously injured or disabled — 20 million had to flee their homes, and 1 million were orphaned, she said.

The funds are used for emergency health care, essential medicines, immunization campaigns, nutrition, education, sanitation and water needs and HIV/AIDS prevention.

In 2003, total UNICEF income for humanitarian action reached $401 million of the $726.5 sought — an increase from the year before, which UNICEF ascribed to its Iraq crisis appeal.

The United States was the largest contributor, giving $82.4 million, followed by the United Kingdom, which provided $61.9 million.

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