- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

Emergency aid

A dozen African nations and Haiti will share $32 million in U.N. emergency assistance to mitigate drought, improve conditions for refugees and stabilize life for those trapped by conflict.

It is the first disbursement of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), created two months ago as a bridge between disaster and donations.

With the exception of the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, most U.N. humanitarian appeals are chronically underfunded. That means emergency response often is delayed or diluted for lack of money. Assistance is almost always universally slow, whether for survivors of the October earthquake in South Asia, refugees on the Sudan-Chad border or the hungry in Zimbabwe.

Outspoken U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland has compared the selectivity of donors to a lottery for victims, with the luckier ones benefiting from media coverage, strategic value or star power. But most humanitarian crises are far from the spotlight.

The initial CERF money has been allocated to Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The DRC crisis is typical, with $90 million received after an appeal for $628 million.

Ross Mountain, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the DRC, said, “Underfunding can be as deadly as the armed conflict that the country is experiencing.” The CERF is administered by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, with an advisory board of member states. Forty governments and two nongovernmental organizations have donated $254 million of the nearly $500 million target reserve.

Speaking of assistance, the World Food Program (WFP) will resume food distribution in North Korea next week, six months after Pyongyang said it no longer needs emergency aid. The Rome-based agency says it has enough staples stockpiled to immediately resume food aid programs in the 30 counties whose governments allow monitoring.

North Korea, which always has been uncomfortable with foreign monitoring of assistance, has reluctantly allowed WFP limited access to hard-hit areas. More than a third of the country is malnourished, according to a 2004 U.N. survey. WFP plans a $102 million program to feed nearly 2 million North Koreans, mainly women, children and the elderly, for the next two years.

Much of the WFP vitamin- and mineral-enriched foods will be distributed to vulnerable populations through schools, community centers and clinics in the 30 counties that allow monitoring.

The U.N. food agency, which operates the largest aid program in North Korea, says it has enough food on hand for two months, but will need in-kind or cash donations to keep the program going after that.

“In the end, we decided it was better to stay in North Korea and help 1.9 million people under the new circumstances, than to walk away and leave behind people who really needed our assistance,” said Tony Banbury, WFP director for Asia.

Meanwhile, on Friday, UNICEF appealed for more than $10 million to support education, health, water and sanitation needs in North Korea.

The United States — the largest single donor to WFP and UNICEF — is concerned that Pyongyang might be channeling international aid to its military. The State Department announced last week that Washington will not contribute assistance until Pyongyang allows closer monitoring of the food distribution.

In Seoul, meanwhile, President Roh Moo-hyun is reported to have offered unconditional assistance to the North, potentially opening a fissure in U.S.-South Korean relations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Seoul yesterday on the first leg of a two-week Asia tour that will include stops in Thailand, China, Vietnam and Japan. On the agenda: North Korea’s missile program and the resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.


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