- Emergency interventions to alleviate suffering during times of crisis, such as the 2005 food shortages in Malawi, often cure the symptoms but not the cause, said the annual World Disasters Report, launched on Thursday by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Human tragedy usually unfolded as a result of neglected developmental crises, as in Malawi, Niger and the Horn of Africa, where "slow-motion" food shortages became "full-blown humanitarian crises before our eyes", the International Federation commented. The persistent and recurrent nature of many humanitarian disasters was driven as much by chronic poverty and vulnerability as by natural hazards.
The report called for the establishment of larger, common, unearmarked emergency funds for neglected crisis situations and sectors, and called on countries and donors to commit at least 10 percent of emergency funds to disaster risk reduction.
Lack of funds to provide timely agricultural inputs in Malawi, combined with pockets of chronic food insecurity, drove the numbers in need of aid to almost five million in 2005.
In Niger, the 2005 crisis, which threatened 2.5 million people with starvation, has been widely recognised as the result of chronic food insecurity that left 40 percent of children routinely malnourished before the situation reached a peak and was brought to the attention of the global media and humanitarian agencies.
"The bigger question," said Peter Rees, head of the International Federation's Operations Support Department, "is that humanitarian funding often comes as a result of a failed development approach or a failed political process." He pointed to a lack of dialogue between the humanitarian and development sectors in assessing spending priorities.
In the case of Malawi, humanitarian aid offered in 2005 should have been sufficiently comprehensive to address rural and urban hunger by benefiting all smallholder households without building debt. The International Federation found that for every dollar of aid Malawi received for its food crisis - whether within or outside of the United Nations appeal - it paid a dollar back in debt repayments. "It is difficult to understand how its external debt could not have been reviewed at a time when the country was facing a humanitarian emergency affecting five million people," said the report.
The International Federation called for at least 10 years to 15 years of guaranteed funding to help Malawi's agriculture sector incorporate 'best-bet' technologies, such as high-quality seeds designed for local conditions and early maturing varieties to reduce vulnerability to drought, as well as other measures.
Amos Zaindi, of GOAL, the Irish development NGO, said Malawi had learnt from the crisis. "The government and donors ensured that agricultural inputs were distributed as early as October this year , unlike the year before, which created the food shortages in 2005."
A successful government-sponsored fertiliser and seed distribution programme towards the end of 2005 also ensured that Malawi enjoyed its biggest ever harvest of 2.6 million mt of maize in 2006, at least half-a-million tonnes more than its annual requirement of two million mt, but lack of funding affected its seed distribution programme in 2006.
Globally, aid coverage was found to be inequitable. Millions of people were left out of vital, potentially life-saving aid because funds were directed at high-profile disasters, while crises like the one in Malawi were neglected, the report pointed out. Governments donated over US$12 billion in bilateral humanitarian aid in 2005 - the highest figure since record keeping began in 1970. In addition, individuals gave over $5.5 billion to assist survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami - the most money nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide had ever collected in a year. Total aid for the tsunami from private individuals and governments amounted to more than $14 billion.
The tsunami was the best-funded disaster, with at least $1,241 per beneficiary in humanitarian aid - 50 times more than for those caught up in the worst-funded crises. Emergency appeals for Chad, Guyana, Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi and Niger raised, on average, less than $27 per person in need.
The International Federation said forms of financing other than Western governments and publics should not be neglected. It found that non-Western donor governments were playing a larger part in humanitarian aid, especially since the tsunami.
According to the World Bank, global remittances to the developing world totalled around $126 billion in 2004 - 50 percent more than all humanitarian and development aid given by the West. In Guatemala, remittances received during 2005 in the municipalities affected by Hurricane Stan totalled $413 million - 20 times more than the United Nations appeal had raised by early December that year.
Uneven media coverage also affected funding for crisis situations. The report noted that Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,300 people, generated 40 times more media coverage than Hurricane Stan, which killed 1,600 people in Guatemala shortly afterwards. The International Federation urged the donor community to develop a closer dialogue with the media on neglected crises, and better connections with the root causes of crises in the developing world.
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