NYT - UNICEF warns against 'humanitarian favoritism'

December 22, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Donors responded generously to crises in Kosovo, Turkey and East Timor in 1999 but gave short shrift to lesser-known victims of war, disasters or extreme poverty, UNICEF reported on Wednesday.

Issuing an emergency appeal for $229.5 million for 2000, the United Nations Children's Fund warned that ``humanitarian favoritism'' was threatening the lives of some of the world's neediest children and their mothers.

Last year UNICEF appealed for $334 million in funds for countries in crisis, but only $220 million, or 66 percent, was received, it said. The UNICEF request is part of an emergency appeal for $2.3 billion that all U.N. humanitarian agencies issued last month.

For seven of the 16 neediest countries, money received by UNICEF ranged from 17 percent of the goal for Uganda to 44 percent for Tajikistan. Children in North Korea received 30 percent of what UNICEF requested.

``The message for the future is that we cannot be content with a pattern that could be construed as humanitarian favoritism,'' Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said.

``The fact that these nations get short short shrift year after year is ironic because some of the greatest achievements are to be found in these same countries,'' she said.

For example, more than 4 million children were vaccinated against polio in Angola. But they could now face outbreaks of meningitis and measles.

In contrast, the homeless in Kosovo, earthquake victims in Turkey and those harmed by armed thugs in East Timor received nearly as much as or more than the amounts requested in 1999, a display of generosity that UNICEF said it appreciated.

``There are thousands and thousands of people killed in Ethiopia or Eritrea, but one may barely know about it,'' Bellamy said, adding that humanitarian efforts, in the absence of political solutions, were often the only international activity in such countries.

Most of the underfunded emergency programs were for protracted crises, Bellamy told a news conference. But she said the ``stamina of those who relieve suffering must be equal to the stamina of the forces that create suffering.''

UNICEF gets most of its emergency funds from the United States, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan and Germany.

The emergency funds are to be used to eradicate polio in a year, help 1 million orphans, and create programs for 10 million children with traumas caused by war, cruelty or disasters. The money is also to be used to prevent epidemics of diarrhea, cholera, malaria and respiratory infections.

Among the areas targeted in the appeal are Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding countries, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Tajikistan and Uganda, as well as the Balkans and East Timor. The victims of Russia's war in Chechnya are also on the list.

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