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Flood Of Aid To Asia May Come At Expense Of Other Disasters

by Thalif Deen

UN Expects Big Donors To Skip Out On Disaster Aid

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- UN officials are hoping that the overwhelming generosity towards victims of the tsunami disaster will not divert funds from the ongoing humanitarian crises in Sudan, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Burundi, Somalia and eastern Congo, which are desperately in need of help from the international donor community.

"It would be the ultimate irony if the year 2005 was started with unprecedented global generosity and ended with no money for those most in need in the 'forgotten and neglected emergencies' in Africa and elsewhere," says Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

The "competitive compassion" by Western donors to outbid each other with their generosity -- first it was the United States with $350 million, then it was Japan with $500 million, followed by Germany with 650 million dollars and finally Australia with $812 million -- has drawn mixed reviews both from the United Nations and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"I would rather have competitive compassion than no compassion at all," says Egeland, who complains that an estimated 30,000 children a day die from preventable diseases and neglect, mostly in Africa.

"That's a tsunami every week," he said. "If the current compassion was competitive compassion, I would like to see more of that so long as it was an equal compassion for everybody."

But so far it has not remained equal because some are more equal than others.

At a summit meeting of mostly Asian leaders in Jakarta Thursday, Annan appealed for $977 million to cover the humanitarian emergency and initial recovery stage for an estimated five million displaced people in the aftermath of the tsunami crisis.

But as of Friday, the United Nations had received an unprecedented five billion dollars in pledges: more than five times the amount it needs. One British newspaper said that the world body is "suffering from an embarrassment of riches."

"The tsunami's impact on Africa has to be viewed on several levels," says Bill Fletcher Jr., president of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum.

One, the destruction in Asia is disproportionately greater than in Africa. Thus, there will tend to be greater attention to Asia, he argued. Two, humanitarian disasters in Africa are treated as "old news" by much of the Western media.

"Whether it is genocide in Rwanda, civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ethnic cleansing and genocide in Darfur, or 50,000 homeless in Somalia as a result of the tsunami, it is all treated as if disasters are just par for the course in Africa," Fletcher told IPS.

And thirdly, and this is true in Africa and Asia, brown, yellow and black lives are undervalued by the Western media, he added.

"If one examines the coverage, it is noteworthy that the interpretations of the disaster are more often than not done through the eyes of the European or U.S. victims of the disaster," he said.

The Asian victims are interviewed, but they serve as something of the background, i.e., the faceless mass of victims. "Rather than a reliance on Asian leaders, scholars, etc., to interpret the broader impact of the disaster, the reliance is on interpretations offered by Europeans or white Americans," Fletcher added.

At a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was pointedly asked why there has been a poor global response for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan, where thousands are dying amidst charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

"Are you outraged by this?" one reporter asked. "And have you talked to leaders here about maybe they could also send a few dollars and political will and capital to that part of the world?"

Annan said that was a dilemma "we have to live with." The tsunami crisis, he said, has generated "an incredible amount of resources and spontaneous and generous response, while other crises do not get the kind of response that we would need."

He also pointed out that in some situations, the UN appeal for funds has received "as little as 14 percent of the amount we need to respond."

In Darfur, where there are urgent needs and where the security situation is deteriorating, "the response has not been anything like this one," he added.

According to figures released by the international aid agency Oxfam, Cote d'Ivoire received only 54 percent of the funding requested by the United Nations in 2003, Liberia 45 percent, and Mozambique only 15 percent.

"Finance for the tsunami crisis should be new money and not diverted at the expense of the millions of people suffering from other humanitarian crises such as Dafur or Congo," says Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam.

She also said that "we must ensure we don't repeat mistakes of previous humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Liberia, and elsewhere where donors have either failed to deliver the aid quickly enough (or at all) or delivered aid at the expense of other disasters."

Ann-Louise Colgan of the Washington-based Africa Action says the greater response for tsunami victims than for victims of genocide in Darfur reflects again "the double standard that we often see when it comes to how Africa is treated in international relations."

There seems to be a global predisposition to accepting a higher amount of suffering in Africa, and this allows the world to turn away more easily from suffering and from crises on the African continent, she argued.

"I think there is also a real difference in how governments respond to man-made disasters (such as genocide) versus natural disasters (such as a tsunami)," Colgan told IPS.

She also pointed out that it is in some ways easier to respond to a natural disaster than to a man-made crisis because man-made disasters have greater political and military complexity, and often require a deeper kind of investment.

"There is also a real reluctance on the part of rich country governments to respond to man-made crises unless they are in a country or region that is considered strategically important, and Africa is seldom perceived as a priority in those kinds of calculations," she added.

Egeland says there are about 50 parallel "forgotten emergencies" unfolding around the world right now. He said he has been "desperate" in trying to get the attention of the world community for the "tsunami" that has been raging in the Congo long before last month's tidal wave hit south and southeast Asia.

That was his perennial criticism of rich countries, Egeland said. "Could it please wake up to those 20 forgotten emergencies in a way it had so generously done with the enormous Indian Ocean tsunami that had killed more than 150,000 people?"

"It hurts as much to be wounded in the Congo as in Kosovo," Egeland said. "It hurts as much to be displaced in Sudan as in Sri Lanka. And it is as terrible to see your child dying from diarrhoea in Banda Aceh as to see your child dying from diarrhea in Guinea."

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Albion Monitor January 7, 2005 (

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