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Ukrainian refugees being evacuated from Irpin to Kyiv after Russian forces invaded Ukraine. (Shutterstock)
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People who have fled to refugee centers to escape the war in Ethiopia now have to contend with declining humanitarian aid as donors give more focus to the millions displaced in Ukraine. (AFP)
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Sasha, a 12-year-old refugee from Ukraine, poses for a photo hat the Humanitarian Aid Center set up at the Global Expo exhibition hall in Warsaw on July 15, 2022. (AFP)
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Humanitarian aid for refugees in places, such as this overcrowded displacement camp in the Turkish-Syrian border, have been affected by the war in Ukraine. (AFP)Next
Updated 23 sec ago
September 05, 2022
- UN has raised barely a third of the $48.7 billion it requested this year to assist 200 million people
- Funding shortfall is result of the sheer scale of human need across the globe at the present time
NEW YORK CITY/BOGOTA, Colombia: Growing humanitarian needs and a focus on Ukraine have left aid agencies with too little money to address the world’s other pressing crises, particularly the deteriorating situations in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
Humanitarian aid agencies working in the world’s conflict and disaster zones need $48.7 billion in 2022 to assist more than 200 million people, according to the UN. But eight months into the year, they have raised barely a third of that figure.
In part, this funding shortfall is the result of the sheer scale of human need across the globe at the present time, from simultaneous wars, climate catastrophes, financial crises, and the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, another major factor that is draining humanitarian coffers is the war in Ukraine, which has dominated the foreign aid agenda among Western governments since Russia launched its invasion in February.
The UN appealed for more than $6 billion from its donors this year to assist Ukrainians displaced or impacted by the fighting. Its first Ukraine appeal raised more than the amount requested, and its second is on its way to being fully funded.
By contrast, aid programs in the world’s other disaster hotspots, from Iraq, Syria and Yemen in the Middle East; DRC, Ethiopia and South Sudan in Africa; Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar in South Asia; and Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela in Latin America, have raised just a fraction of what is required, setting back their relief efforts.
“I am very concerned about the irreversible damage caused by chronic under-funding,” Joyce Msuya, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, told a UN Security Council briefing on the situation in Syria on Aug. 29.
“It could compromise life-saving assistance and curtail investments in livelihood and essential services. Lack of funding comes with severe consequences, including more drop-outs from school, higher malnutrition rates, and less protection interventions.”
In relation to her remit in Syria, she added: “If we do not act now, a generation of Syrian children might be lost.”
Indeed aid budgets have been slashed for projects in Syria and to assist refugees hosted by neighboring countries. This is despite the recent increase in violence in northern Syria, including in the northern Aleppo countryside and the Kurdish-held northeast, the ongoing displacement crisis, and mounting humanitarian needs, all amid a stalemate in the political process and the regime’s near economic ruin.
Some observers have accused donor countries in the West, who provide the bulk of humanitarian aid funding, of “double standards” or even outright racism for lavishing money on projects assisting predominantly white and Christian fellow Europeans caught up in the Ukraine crisis, while starving projects in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America of much-needed support.
“From Bangladesh to Colombia, we have a dozen operations where I am very worried about the underfunding,” Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told a press conference in July. “It is important to hammer and hammer the message (home) that Ukraine cannot be the only humanitarian response.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, caused a diplomatic stir in April when he accused the international community of double standards in response to crises affecting different races.
Ghebreyesus, who is Ethiopian, said the world was treating humanitarian crises affecting black and white lives unequally, with only a “fraction” of the attention on Ukraine given elsewhere.
He said more focus has been on the war in Ukraine while need elsewhere, including in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, were not being taken as seriously. The conflict in Tigray, which began in November 2020, has left thousands dead and millions displaced.
“I don’t know if the world really gives equal attention to black and white lives,” Tedros told reporters at a press conference. “The whole attention to Ukraine is very important of course, because it impacts the whole world.
“But even a fraction of it is not being given to Tigray, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria and the rest. I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way. Some are more equal than others. And when I say this, it pains me. Because I see it. Very difficult to accept but it’s happening.”
While the war in Ukraine has a clear geopolitical urgency for Western donors, directly affecting their national interests, not to mention the 6 million Ukrainians hosted by neighboring European countries, it has raised concerns about the politicization of aid.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, rejects the idea of an institutional double standard in favor of Ukrainians over other races or national contexts, but admits he is concerned about the limited funding now being made available to the world’s other disaster zones.
“This is not new, the idea that there is a limited bandwidth of attention internationally. Ukraine didn’t write the book on this, although it’s certainly been an extraordinarily driven crisis for us,” Griffiths told Arab News.
“The attention cycle of the international community is really, really limited to the topic du jour, and Ukraine has occupied that position understandably. I don’t think that’s a double standard — that’s understandable.
“We worry about funding because we were worrying throughout whether the member states who provide humanitarian funding would have less money to give to Yemen and Syria and Afghanistan and places. And the evidence on that is still a little bit at odds.
“Certainly in the first weeks of the Ukraine war, most donors protected the funding that they already had available for non-Ukraine conflicts. As time went on, we began to see that eroding.
“I never refer to it as a double standard, but I do worry whether the attention is sufficient and the priority is sufficient for people elsewhere.”
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, insists the aid response elsewhere in the world has not been deliberately neglected in favor of Ukraine.
“The secretary-general has to be a multitasker. Just because he’s focused on Ukraine, it doesn’t mean he’s not dealing with other crises,” Dujarric told Arab News.
“I think every day, almost every day, I talk about other humanitarian crises, and I always try to flag the lack of funding, which is tragic for all these people, not only people in camps in Iraq or Syria, but we know that rations had to be cut at some point in Yemen or in the Horn of Africa because the money is not coming in.
“And it’s not that the money’s not there globally. We know there’s money … Everyone is trying to shake the tree. We need the money for these humanitarian crises.
“When humanitarian appeals are 10 percent funded, 20 percent funded, 30 percent funded, it means that we do not have enough money to feed people, to house people, to provide health services.”
Asked by Arab News whether donor countries could be accused of double standards in their aid funding priorities, Dujarric said: “I can’t speak to the motivation or the processes of donors.
“There are some member states that are extremely generous. Others we feel could be more generous. That’s just a fact. We also know that there’s a lot of money in the private sector. There’s a lot of money in foundations. There isn’t a lack of money in the world.
“What there is, is a lack of money going to people who are literally facing starvation. We understand that donors have competing needs, and we understand that some donors may feel it’s more important to focus on crises that have a direct impact on them. And we thank them for the donations for the people of Ukraine. Everyone who needs help is deserving. We just want everyone to be helped.”
In 2019, when the UN asked donors to provide $27.8 billion to fund all of its humanitarian programs, it fell more than $10 billion short of its target. In 2020, the target rose to $38.6 billion and the shortfall to $19.4 billion.
Although aid funding improved slightly in 2021, the target rose again in 2022 to $48.7 billion — about $8 billion more than the UN had projected before the year began. With barely half that amount likely to be met, it is the world’s most vulnerable who are likely to pay the price.