UN raises quake aid appeal

The United Nations has nearly doubled its appeal for aid for victims of the South Asia earthquake, as a leading charity accused wealthy nations of failing to respond to the disaster.

    Oxfam says aid pledges fall far short of needs

    With the UN now seeking more than half a billion dollars in emergency funds, UK-based relief agency Oxfam said the response from many of the world's richest nations had been inadequate.

    The criticism came as officials from 65 countries including the United States, Britain, France and Japan gathered in Geneva on Wednesday to review the recovery situation and mobilise more financial support.

    Ahead of the meeting Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian coordinator's office (OCHA), told AFP they were now seeking aid totalling $549.6m.

    "The needs are growing and many agencies are not being financed," Byrs said.

    Earlier, in a statement Oxfam said that despite UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's urgent call for more aid last week, the UN's orginal appeal remained only 19% funded and if pledges were included this only brought the total to 30%.

    Of the $312-million that the UN had originally requested, just $90 million has been pledged. The increased call for aid now makes the shortfall even greater.

    "Governments are once again failing to respond to an emergency appeal" Oxfam's policy director Phil Bloomer said in the statement.

    "The logistical nightmare in Pakistan is bad enough without having to worry about funding shortfalls as well.

    Governments meeting in Geneva today must put their hands in their pockets and pay their fair share. The public will be shocked that so many rich governments have given so little."

    Toll rises

    Thousands of families remain

    homeless after the Oct 8 quake

    Pakistani officials on Wednesday announced that the toll as a result of the 8 October earthquake had risen to 54,000.

    About 70,000 people were injured and more than 800,000 left without shelter after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake levelled towns and isolated villages in northern Pakistan and the adjoining North West Frontier province.

    Another 1300 people have died and many more injured in neighbouring Indian-administered Kashmir.

    According to Oxfam, seven wealthy Western countries have so far given nothing at all to the UN appeal. These were Belgium, France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

    "By contrast, much poorer countries such as Poland and Chile have given contributions," said Bloomer.

    The rich countries mentioned belong to the European Union which often helps fund emergency disaster relief on behalf of its members.

    Costly delays

    On Monday, the EU's executive commission said it was proposing new contributions from Brussels that would bring the 25-nation body's total for immediate help to survivors and for rehabilitation and reconstruction to $111.7 million, according to a Reuters report.

    "These delays can cost thousands of people's lives. What will it take for rich countries to learn this obvious lesson?"

    Phil Bloomer
    Oxfam's policy director

    Oxfam said "the slow response to the UN South Asia appeal is depressingly familiar", adding that in 2004, donor governments provided less than two-third of what the UN's emergency appeals asked for "leaving a black hole in emergency programmes of $1.3 billion".

    A similar shortfall existed in 2003, the agency added.

    "These delays can cost thousands of people's lives. What will it take for rich countries to learn this obvious lesson?"

    Winter snowfalls are to take hold in a few weeks, and aid agencies are warning that the bad weather was likely to hamper relief efforts.

    Central UN fund

    The UN urgently needs a properly resourced global emergency fund that can plug these gaps and deliver aid immediately, said Bloomer.

    "Until a $1 billion fund exists, the chaotic passing of the begging bowl will go on and people who survived disasters will continue to die while they wait for aid," said Bloomer.

    The UN has put forward proposals to establish such a global emergency fund by revitalising an existing fund formally called the UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund.

    But so far, that too has failed to attract a fifth of the funding it needs, Bloomer added.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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