Disasters in Afghanistan, East Africa, and the Philippines Underscore Need for Adequate International Emergency Funds

The United Nations launched an appeal for $3.9 billion to provide food, water, medicine and other emergency assistance to help some 27 million people struggling to survive in areas of conflict and natural disasters in 28 countries or regions in 2007. In 2006, the consolidated Appeal had sought $4.7 billion (but as of October had received only $3 billion). The 2007 Appeal involves UN agencies, some 140 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other international and local groups. It seeks funding for crises in 28 African countries and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Jan Egeland, UN Under Secretary-General and the body’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he hoped that donors would provide the full amount requested, breaking with the past pattern where less than two-thirds of requested funds were received. Egeland also said that the recently established Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) may help to address funding shortfalls.

In early December, UN Secretary-General Annan appealed to international donors to continuing funding the world body’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) next year so it reaches its goal of $500 million to provide rapid assistance to those most in need. Currently, donors have pledged almost $300 million to the Fund.

With recent disasters in eastern Africa, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, and with UN agencies struggling to deliver adequate and timely relief supplies, the need for better international emergency preparedness is indisputable.

Philippines

In the Philippines, Durian, one of the strongest typhoons in years, hit on 30 November. It brought floods and mudslides that killed at least 526 people, wounded more than 1,000, and left 740 reported missing. The typhoon destroyed 80,000 homes and damaged more than 150,000 others. All in all, some 1.5 million people were affected. The Philippine National Red Cross said it was likely that the disaster had killed more than 1,000 people. The Bicol region in the eastern Philippines was the hardest hit area. Heavy rains and strong winds destabilized the slopes of Mayon volcano, sending mud and boulders down onto villages below.

Afghanistan

More than 100 people were killed by floods in several provinces of Afghanistan in November. In southern Urozgan province, at least 40 people died, some 300 houses were destroyed, and hundreds of acres of farmland inundated by flash floods. In western Farah province hundreds of flood-affected families are in need of assistance after floods that killed 18 people. In the Behsoud district of eastern Nangrahar province, floods killed at least nine people.

In western Badghis province, floods killed 58 people, with 100 more still missing. UN agencies including the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, and UNICEF airlifted emergency aid for more than 5,500 victims. UN officials are concerned not only by flooding, but also drought in parts of the country and escalating conflict. But parts of Afghanistan are also suffering from a harsh drought that is affecting some 1.9 million people. The World Food Programme says it requires $48 million to secure some 74,000 tons of food for the next six months. But the agency has only about 12,000 tons on hand, with additional supplies taking several months to be brought into Afghanistan. A continued shortfall would have severe consequences for 2 to 3 million people.

East Africa

Like Afghanistan, eastern Africa has experienced a sudden lurch from drought to floods. Such extremes can partly be explained by deforestation, but are also a harbinger of conditions to come as climate change unfolds. Flooding triggered by some of the heaviest rains in recent history in the Somali Region of Ethiopia; along the Juba and Shabelle rivers in Somalia’s Gedo, Juba Valley, Hiran and Shabele Valley regions; and in northeastern Kenya. Some measuring stations have recorded more than 6 times the normal rainfall. Some 1.8 million East Africans are at risk of malnutrition, contaminated floodwater, and diseases such as cholera, measles, and malaria.

Heavy rains, and thus further flooding, are expected to continue throughout December and perhaps even into January 2007. Therefore, more than 3 million people may ultimately be at risk. Severe flooding over vast areas of farmland in Somalia will significantly curtail harvests early in 2007, creating food shortages for numbers of people. The flooding also disrupted cereal trade and could thus lead to serious food shortages in the Somali hinterland.

In Somalia, UN agencies attempting to deliver relief supplies are confronting not only the problem that floods have washed away the few existing roads and bridges, but also the damage to infrastructure due to years of civil war. The rains have also dislodged landmines seeded in Somalia’s long-running strife, posing additional hazards. More than 160,000 Somalis that have sought refuge in Kenya are also badly affected by the massive flooding in the Dadaab region of their host country.