A year of disasters around the world sparked an unprecedented outpouring of aid, but richer nations are still not giving enough money to tackle lingering humanitarian crises, the UN humanitarian chief said.
Jan Egeland said, for example, that as many people die in Congo every eight months as in last year's Indian Ocean tsunami.
He also criticized political leaders for failing to take action to end the wars that create humanitarian crises or invest in disaster prevention to mitigate the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.
The work of UN and other relief workers in conflict-wracked eastern Congo, in the Darfur region of western Sudan, and in northern Uganda has become "an alibi for lack of political and security action," Egeland said.
"We are a plaster on a wound which is not healed," he lamented, "because there's no political action to put an end to the wars, and there's too little also invested in preventing natural disasters."
`A year of suffering'
In a wide-ranging interview on Friday, Egeland looked back on the response to the tsunami, devastating hurricanes and monsoons, drought and near famine in Africa, and the recent South Asian earthquake.
"This has been really a year of disasters, a year of suffering, but it's also been a year of compassion and solidarity like probably no other year," he said. "The tsunami was world record in concrete solid compassion. We've never been as generous -- ever -- as a world. We feared it would take away from other emergencies and we can now safely say it did not."
After the tidal wave on Dec. 26 last year swept across the Indian Ocean devastating coastal communities in 12 countries, Egeland urged the world to help those who had lost everything, saying many of the richest countries were "far too stingy" in helping the poorest.
Egeland did not use the word "stingy" again, but he said he still was dissatisfied with the response to helping the world's less fortunate.
"We have given more than in any other year. Are we giving enough? No," he said.
If the world's richest countries continue to keep up to 99.8 percent of their gross national product for themselves, "they have a big potential for giving more to the poorest of the poor," Egeland said.
US the worst
He did not name any countries but according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, none of the world's richest countries donated even 1 percent of GNP and the US was lowest at 0.14 percent.
On Nov. 30, the UN appealed for a record US$4.7 billion for major humanitarian crises next year, with over half earmarked for Sudan and Congo.
The appeal, which covers 31 million people mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia, is worth the equivalent of 48 hours of worldwide military spending or the cost of two cups of coffee for the planet's 1 billion richest people, the UN said.
"Europeans eat ice cream for twice the amount of euros or dollars per year as we ask for all our humanitarian operations in the world," Egeland said. "North American pets get more investment per month than we have money for all our humanitarian operations in the world."
He said the world did "exactly the right thing in the tsunami," with governments, corporations and individuals pledging about US$12 billion, which should be enough to rebuild devastated areas along with funds from their own governments.
"We should have a similar kind of response to emergencies elsewhere," he said.