Dressed in colourful shawls, women walk out in the early evening at an IDP camp based in the grounds of Takht Bhai's technical college. Credit: Alixandra Fazzina/ Oxfam
Aid agencies face closure of projects as money fails to arrive.

Pakistan aid effort in jeopardy due to lack of funds and UN blockage

“This is the worst funding crisis we’ve faced in over a decade for a major humanitarian emergency.”
Jane Cocking
Oxfam's Humanitarian Director
Published: 11 June 2009

International aid agency Oxfam said today that in a month’s time it will be forced to close its aid efforts for the victims of the fighting in Swat valley of Pakistan due to a lack of funds. Oxfam faces a deficit of £4 million ($6 million) and will have to stop delivering clean water, safe sanitation and other programs to the 360,000 people it had planned to assist if money does not arrive.

“This is the worst funding crisis we’ve faced in over a decade for a major humanitarian emergency. Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes. One month into this emergency, we’re £4 million short and will have to turn our backs on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. In the same period after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, we had £14m committed from the UN, governments and the public,” said Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director.

The funding crisis is not affecting aid agencies alone. The UN’s $543m appeal has only received $138m so far; a 75 per cent shortfall. Out of the 52 organizations requesting UN appeal funds, 30 have received no funds at all.

The vast majority of the funds the UN appeal has received came before the recent outpouring of people from the Swat valley, which swelled the number of displaced from 500,000 to 2.5 million people in early May; the largest internal displacement of people in Pakistan’s history. Since May, rich countries have contributed a mere $50m to the UN appeal, a minuscule nine per cent of the total required.

The US, the world’s richest nation, is by far the greatest contributor to the fund at $68m, giving 12.5 per cent of what is required since the initial crisis began in October 2008. The sixth richest country, the UK, has given 1.6 per cent of requirements, Japan, the world’s second largest economy, has given 1.4 per cent, Germany, fourth richest country, has given 1.3 per cent, Canada 1.0 per cent, Australia 0.8 per cent, Norway 0.4 per cent, Italy 0.3 per cent, Netherlands 0.3 per cent, Sweden 0.2 per cent, France 0.02 per cent.

Oxfam said besides little money going into the UN appeal the problem was also that even less money is being dispersed to frontline agencies from the appeal. Previously governments would give part of their aid money directly to front line agencies. Now when governments do give aid money, it tends to go to the UN which then passes it on to agencies working on the ground. Though the UN system can improve coordination and reduce duplication of efforts, the allocation of money to front line agencies takes far too long. In a humanitarian crisis speed of delivery is vital. The UN funding system needs to be complimented with other diverse ways of getting aid money as swiftly as possible to those saving lives.

Five weeks into the escalation of the crisis, the UK’s Department for International Development says that it will now directly fund those front line non-governmental agencies working within the UN appeal. Welcome as this change is, it will require other donors to be equally as flexible to cover all the other agencies’ shortfall.

“With monsoon rains due by the end of June, serious health risks will increase as water sources become contaminated. At the time when the risks start to escalate we will be forced to turn off the taps for tens of thousands reliant on safe clean water.

“The only reason we haven’t faced a massive humanitarian meltdown is the generosity of families and communities of modest means who’ve looked after the vast majority of those who’ve fled the fighting. With so many mouths to feed, these communities will soon be running on empty. The world’s richest nations need to dig much deeper into their pockets to help,” added Ms. Cocking.