Fri, Jun 12, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Agencies threaten to leave Swat valley

EMERGENCY Shortages of cash and bottlenecks in the delivery of supplies to people uprooted by fighting have caused the biggest humanitarian funding crisis in a decade

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A man carries bread to distribute to internally displaced people who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley at the UN High Commission for Refugees’ Sheikh Yaseen camp yesterday in Mardan, Pakistan.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A group of nine international aid groups including ActionAid, Islamic Relief and Oxfam said efforts to help more than 1 million victims of fighting in Pakistan’s Swat valley were in jeopardy. The agencies face a cash shortfall of more than £26 million (US$43 million).

“This is the worst funding crisis we’ve faced in over a decade for a major humanitarian emergency. Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes,” said Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s humanitarian director. “One month into this emergency, Oxfam is £4 million short and will have to turn our backs on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Oxfam said it would have to close its programs to the 360,000 people it had planned to help if money did not arrive by next month. Concern Worldwide, another group, said it would also have to close its program at the same time, just as health risks such as malaria and diarrhea will rise because of the monsoon rains.

The agencies blame Western governments for not coming up with enough money. A UN appeal for US$543 million has produced only US$138 million so far. Out of the 52 organizations requesting UN appeal funds, 30 have received no funds at all. Worse, most of the funds the UN appeal has received came before the exodus from the Swat valley that swelled the number of displaced people from 500,000 to 2.5 million early last month, the largest displacement in Pakistan’s history.

Since then, rich countries have contributed only US$50 million to the UN appeal.

“The only reason we haven’t faced a massive humanitarian meltdown is the generosity of families and communities of modest means who’ve looked after the vast majority of those who’ve fled the fighting. With so many mouths to feed, these communities will soon be running on empty. The world’s richest nations need to dig much deeper into their pockets to help,” said Carolyn Miller, chief executive of the health charity Merlin.

Delays in getting aid through pose another grave problem: previously governments would have given part of their aid money directly to frontline agencies; in the last four years, however, governments have been encouraged to funnel aid through the UN.

But relief organizations say bureaucracy and a lack of UN staff on the ground have hampered the delivery of aid.

“While we support the principle of more co-ordinated aid, we don’t want to cut one lifeline until the new one can hold the weight,” said David Taylor of Oxfam.

In an acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the UN system, Britain’s Department for International Development says it will now give cash directly to those relief organizations working within the UN appeal.

“Welcome as this change is, it will require other donors to be equally flexible to cover the agencies’ £26 million shortfall,” the relief groups said.

British International Development secretary, Douglas Alexander, said: “The aid agencies on the ground are doing heroic work under extremely difficult conditions and we are determined to support their efforts. The international community has an obligation to help the Pakistani government meet the urgent humanitarian needs of those most directly affected by the ongoing insecurity.”

The UN has described the flight of people caused by the government offensive in Swat as the most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Until now, unlike many emergencies, most people displaced in Pakistan have found shelter not in camps but with host families or in communal buildings such as schools.

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