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World Disasters Report: Living and dying in the shadows

Thursday December 14, 2006

In 2005, the world responded more generously to people's humanitarian needs than at any time in recent history. Emergency aid reached at least US$ 17 billion - outstripping any other year on record.

Yet millions still missed out on vital, potentially life-saving aid because funds were directed at high-profile disasters, while countless other crises were neglected, according to this year's annual World Disasters Report, launched today (December 14) by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Report shows that governments donated over US$ 12 billion in bilateral humanitarian aid in 2005 - the highest figure since records began in 1970. For example, individuals gave over US$ 5.5 billion for survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami - the most NGOs worldwide had ever collected in a year. Total aid for the tsunami from private individuals and governments totalled over US$ 14 billion.

But aid coverage is inequitable. The tsunami was the best-funded disaster, with at least US$ 1,241 per beneficiary in humanitarian aid - 50 times more than for the worst-funded crises. Emergency appeals for Chad, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Malawi and Niger raised on average less than US$ 27 per person in need.

Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner said such huge disparities are unacceptable. 'The generous response in 2005 shows people and governments are committed to helping those in need. Now we must ensure aid goes where it is most needed and that it is not skewed for political, security or media reasons.'

The World Disasters Report asks why humanitarian aid is still unfairly distributed. Which communities languish in the shadows of emergency response and prevention - neglected by the media, aid organizations, donors, even by their own governments?

'Why do some crises rate news coverage, donor money, a place in international disaster databases, while others don't? What is the human impact of this neglect and what can be done about it?' said Mr Tickner.

'For many people, daily life contains the seeds of crisis' he continued. 'Neglecting their vulnerability turns today's risk into tomorrow's disaster.'

This year's Report uses examples from virtually every continent- food insecurity in Africa, maternal mortality in South Asia, the tyranny of repeated crises in the Americas, irregular migration to Europe and gender inequities in disasters worldwide to reveal the lives of those people living in the shadows. The Report shows how the right responses now can help prevent chronic crises flaring up into humanitarian emergencies.

Australian Red Cross is currently involved in projects at home and around the Asia/Pacific region to respond to just this challenge.

'If we tackle looming disasters now like the spread of HIV in Papua New Guinea and water-borne diseases in countries across the pacific region, we might avert even greater crises in the future', Mr Tickner said.