- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

John Zarocostas recently interviewed Daniel Toole, UNICEF director for emergency programs, in Geneva on the agency’s renewed appeal for humanitarian-action funds.

Question: You have just issued a new appeal for nearly $516 million, but you express concern at the slow response from major donor countries. How do you explain the lack of response?

Answer: Yes, it’s slow. We have only 6 percent funded out of $516 million. In a world of continuing crises, that’s a tragedy. And it means children’s lives are being lost. Women and children are in trouble.

I think on the one hand, it is that people are preoccupied with existing emergencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, hopefully now Liberia as well. But funds for emergencies tend to follow media interest — and therefore people’s interest. So, for the moment, we are focused there. We have a lot of forgotten emergencies that we’re very concerned about.

Q: Your agency for many years has had high public approval worldwide, compared with many other agencies. How do you explain the fact that despite the esteem for UNICEF, donations are not flowing in?

A: UNICEF is a unique organization. It’s the only organization in the United Nations that is funded 100 percent from voluntary contributions. Either governments give or individuals give. UNICEF gets 30 percent of its funding from the private sector. That’s part of the reason that we keep our interest with our donors. The people who support UNICEF are extremely varied. It’s my mother, someone’s aunt in Germany, who all believe in UNICEF.

We’ve been put under the spotlight on a number of occasions. I think we’ve come up honestly well. We need to come up better and get people to understand the real needs of women and children.

Most of the northern donors, which would be the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc., are very generous, particularly the populations, the average person in the street. However, they do not feel connected enough to a child in the Congo or Sri Lanka, and we have to give better information, more human-interest stories, more direct feedback about what their money does, and we’re trying to do that.

Q: If we break down the funding for this emergency appeal, what percentage would be earmarked, for instance, for vaccination campaigns, and how much would be for emergency nutrition and so forth?

A: The total amount that we are requesting is $516 million, and it covers 30 countries and or regions, and some of it goes to emergencies. The main areas we support are: health and nutrition, which is the largest, 40 percent or so; water and sanitation, where UNICEF is a key player to provide water in emergencies; “child protection,” which means demobilization of child soldiers, helping parents find their children when they are lost in a crisis situation; and lastly, that’s an increasing percent, for education.

It’s not a life-saving intervention, but we believe, more and more, that it’s necessary to create normalcy in children’s lives after a crisis. It’s necessary to help kids get over the trauma of a crisis. It’s also necessary when we are trying to demobilize kids who have been in the military, to help them get back into a routine, to get back into normal life.

So those are the four main areas.

Q: To what extent is the amount the private sector contributes to UNICEF affected by downturns and upswings in the global economy?

A: I think people in general are more generous when things are going well.

I think the surprise — and I speak specifically of the U.S., which has the largest public fund-raising base, there’s over $200 billion given to charity every year from the private sector in the United States — is that a very small percentage of that goes to international causes. Most of it stays.

Only 1.5 percent goes directly to international causes, although some may go through churches. So, very little goes to international assistance. I think our task is to convince people that they can have a lot of impact by investing in international aid, because your dollar goes further, or your Canadian dollar, or your euro.

It is important for us to show results through our national committees — the U.S. fund for UNICEF, the German national committee, and the other groups that support UNICEF.

We can actually feed back human-interest stories. If it’s a person on the street, they’re more interested in “What did my money do?” and seeing it with a human face, than in a financial report. …

Q: We hear often of “donor fatigue,” or does the lack of donations have more to do with other geopolitical priorities?

A: I think money flows where people’s interests lie. There is no shortage for economic development when there’s an interest in economic development. There is no shortage of funds for emergency assistance when that emergency country is high on a political agenda. …

International support for development and emergencies fluctuates. Last year was not a great year.

The United States and Britain, in particular, gave more to emergencies because of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, than they have in the past, but we hope this year people will not forget the other places.

Q: President Bush has put a high profile on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa with a big pledge in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Do you expect other governments to follow his example and be more forthcoming, given that health is such a big component of your needs in the field?

A: I hope so. We are thrilled with the pledge for additional monies. Some of them have actually been deposited; some of them have not yet. So we hope the totality will come forward, particularly on the issue of HIV/AIDS. It is one of the most important crises we have on the planet. Its epicenter is sub-Saharan Africa. So we see, for example in southern Africa where we’ve had a serious drought, the effect has skyrocketed in proportion because of the additional consequences of HIV/AIDS, and losses in the productive work force. …

Q: You have just completed a round-table meeting with both donor and recipient countries. Any optimistic note?

A: I hope so. We launched the humanitarian action report there. We had 70 countries in the room. We had a nice mix of both donor and recipient countries. We had solid support — theoretical support, not checkbook support.

I hope it leads to contributions to UNICEF for its emergency operations.

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