Governments have failed to respond effectively to year of disasters

Published: 22 November 2005

The South Asian earthquake is the latest in a year of some of the worst disasters ever seen, yet governments have failed to respond adequately and lives have been lost as a result, said international agency Oxfam today.

The South Asian earthquake is the latest in a year of some of the worst disasters ever seen, yet governments have failed to respond adequately and lives have been lost as a result, said international agency Oxfam today.

Oxfam’s new briefing paper, “2005: Year of Disasters”, finds that the number of people affected by natural disasters has climbed dramatically over the last decade with tens of millions of people affected in the past year alone. It says that the response to these emergencies has been characterized by, “an uneven, often late and sometimes inefficient international humanitarian performance that has been undermined by inadequate funding for the UN’s vital appeals”.

The briefing note finds that, “humanitarian assistance still does not cover all needs, often arrives too late, and is too often determined more by media profile or political criteria than humanitarian need”. It concludes that these failings are “condemning thousands of people to unnecessary suffering and death”.

Greg Puley, Policy Adviser for Oxfam, said the report surveys some of the major crises in 2005 and finds that the international response to United Nations’ appeals for many including Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and Southern Africa, has been vastly inadequate.

“2005 will be remembered as the year of disasters and we must learn lessons from it. While Governments responded generously to the Tsunami, and look set to do so following the Asian earthquake, they virtually ignored less visible crises in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Niger,” said Puley. “Lack of quick and adequate funding translates into tens of millions of women, men and children around the world suffering needlessly and in some cases it is a death sentence for thousands.”

Oxfam’s briefing paper concludes that the “major and life-threatening shortcomings” in the current system require urgent reform of the humanitarian system. As a first step governments must commit an additional US$1 billion into a UN emergency fund on top of their existing humanitarian aid levels to ensure an immediate response to crises. This would be a rapid response emergency fund that would help end the delays that have cost so many lives and make sure all crises get funding, not just the most newsworthy. Reforming the existing UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF) is a vital first step that governments must agree when they meet to review humanitarian action at the UN General Assembly in November.

"Starvation and prolonged suffering does not have to be inevitable. The food crisis in Niger was predicted months beforehand and could have been prevented if adequate funding had been immediately available. The creation of a UN $1 billion rapid response fund could help save thousands of lives and reduce the suffering of millions.”

The UN estimates that 16 million people are currently at immediate risk in ten ‘neglected emergencies’ in Africa alone. In 2004 the UN faced an annual shortfall of over US$1.3 billion for its appeals, effectively abandoning people to destitution, starvation or death once their own coping strategies and national resources have been exhausted.

“2005: Year of disasters” found that:

1. There was massive under funding for some of the world’s worst crises:

    * In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 2.3 million people have been displaced by the conflict and 3.8 million have lost their lives since 1997. Yet just over half (53 percent) of the US$194,109,117 requested by the UN for the DRC had been received as of 12th October 2005.
    * Similarly in Darfur where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and 1.8 million displaced by the conflict, less than half (just 46%) of US$1,866,325,654 requested by the UN for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur had been received as of October 12th 2005

2. During 2005 the world has experienced some of the worst natural disasters ever. The Asian Tsunami killed a staggering 224,495 people. Hurricanes Stan (in Central America) and Katrina killed much fewer people but their floods and mudslides affected around 2 million and 500,000 people respectively.

3. Over the last decade the numbers of disasters, and the numbers of people affected by disasters, has been climbing:

    * The average annual number of disasters reported during 2000-04 was 55% higher than during 1995-99. With 719 reported disasters, 2004 was the third worst year of the decade (1994-2004).
    * During 2000-2004 disasters affected one third more people than during 1995-1999.
    * Over the same period the numbers of people affected by disasters in countries of low human development doubled, with Africa showing the greatest increase.

Neglected emergencies are those that consistently suffer low levels of funding either because they have a lower media or political profile e.g. the Democratic Republic of the Congo; or have been continuing for many years e.g. northern Uganda’s 20 year conflict.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Caroline Green in Washington DC on +1 202 321 7858 or +1 202 496 1174 or Brendan Cox in Oxford on +44 7957 120 853 or +44 1865 472289