An unprecedented number of people are beginning 2014 either internally displaced or as refugees, the United Nations humanitarian chief has warned, urging sustained support for millions who have been driven from their homes by violence and bloodshed or uprooted by devastating natural disasters.
“2013 was a real test of the global humanitarian system, and there is no indication that 2014 will be any different,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, briefing reporters in New York on the past year, which was marked by the international community’s massive efforts to ease suffering in war-torn Syria and typhoon-hit Philippines, and the year ahead, which has opened amid sectarian fighting in both Central African Republic and South Sudan.
“It is clear that the United Nations and its partners will be needed more than ever,” she said, noting that just a little more than two weeks ago, the Organisation had launched its largest ever funding appeal – nearly $13 billion – to reach millions of people with life-saving aid in 2014, with half of that sought for those affected by the deepening crisis in Syria.
Tragically since then, inter-communal fighting has shattered the world’s youngest nation – South Sudan – and bloody violence has spread throughout the Central African Republic, where a worrying crisis has been unfolding against a backdrop of abject poverty and a collapsing State. “The world’s collective response capacity and resources are being stretched to the limit,” she said, stressing that more funds will be needed to address emerging needs.
In South Sudan, violence has driven an estimated 194,000 people from their homes in a matter of weeks with more than 57,000 seeking protection at UN missions.
Some 107,000 people have been reached with assistance, Ms. Amos said, adding that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which she heads, aims to reach over 600,000 people in the first three months on this year.
She expressed deep concern about ongoing disturbing reports of gross violations of human rights and the lack of protection of civilians, “Aid organisations need access to affected communities to provide shelter, health care and clean water. People’s lives depend on this.”
In Syria, where over 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011, Ms. Amos noted that the collapse of the country’s infrastructure, ongoing targeting of civilians and militarisation of schools and hospitals remain ongoing concerns, with some 6.5 million people displaced and more than 2.3 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
“We continue to stress the need for a political solution to the crisis. Every day that passes leads to further deterioration of the situation,” Ms. Amos said adding that the funding need is “unprecedented”. On 15 January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to chair the second Pledging Conference for Syria, hosted in Kuwait City by Emir Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah.
Plans are also underway for the long-awaited international conference aimed at achieving a political solution. The so-called Geneva II conference is due to begin in Switzerland on 22 January.
On the Central African Republic, Ms. Amos noted that violence and unrest continue against the backdrop of abject poverty and the collapse of the State, with more than one of six residents internally displaced, an equivalent of more than 800,000 people, and a half-million hungry.
“Aid agencies continue to scale up their response activities as fast as security conditions allow but it has not been easy,” she said.
In Sudan, aid workers continue to face challenges accessing South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, with limited access also to Darfur whose crisis is now entering its tenth year.
Large-scale displacement is also a concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where 2.7 million people remain uprooted, 65 per cent of them in the Kivu provinces alone.
The surrender of the M23 rebel group in early November last year raised hopes of progress, “but security is volatile and the return of the displaced remains an elusive goal,” Ms. Amos said.
In addition to displacement, aid workers in the country are grappling with food insecurity. An estimated 6.3 million people do not have steady access to food, resulting in half of all children under five years of age in the country being considered chronically malnourished.
Similarly, in Somalia, where a fragile political landscape and rampant insecurity continue to pose operational challenges for aid workers, 3.2 million people are in need of assistance with malnutrition rates topping some of the highest in the world.
In Mali and eight other countries in the Sahel which are high on OCHA’s agenda, around 16 million people are at risk of hunger due to fighting and rapid population grown.
The UN relief arm is following a twin track approach in the region, delivering food and other assistance to vulnerable people, while working to strengthen the ability of the people and the Government to build resistance and absorb future shocks as a result of drought and other natural disasters.
Among other countries cited, Ms. Amos also noted the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, Haiti and Myanmar.
She stressed that the reforms the UN put in place two years ago are delivering real results, but more work is needed to bridge its different elements – political, development, peacekeeping and humanitarian arms – in a way which delivers strategic and sustained support.