New York (UN/epo). - Nearly four-fifths of the recent United Nations humanitarian appeals have addressed African problems, but the response has been slow to nearly non-existent, the chief of the UN humanitarian office told the Security Council today.
"I remember sitting in this very room last summer asking for five helicopters to save thousands of lives in Darfur (Sudan). In the end we had to hire helicopters commercially as no Member States were willing to provide them", Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the meeting on humanitarian challenges in Africa.
After the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region on 26 December, he again appealed for helicopters for the Asian countries affected "and, within days, saw the deployment of several helicopter carriers," he said.
Some said no quick response would come to the victims of protracted armed conflicts in Africa, but the international community should try its hardest, be innovative and quickly build on the response in the last four weeks to the tsunami disaster, Mr. Egeland said.
While few combatants died last month in the battle in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) North Kivu, the cumulative impact of the conflicts on Congolese civilians was staggering, with 3.8 million people killed since 1998, he said. "This amounts to the toll of more than a dozen tsunamis."
In Darfur, "all sides are heavily armed, despite the arms embargo imposed by the Council last July," he said, severely limiting OCHA's ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people in need.
In December the UN World Food Programme (WFP) managed to reach 1.5 million people, "a significant achievement, but still 500,000 less than the target for December," Mr. Egeland said.
In Eritrea some 2.2 million people out of a population of 3.8 million needed food aid, he said, and the maternal malnutrition rate of 53 per cent was among the highest in the world.
Meanwhile, the response to consolidated appeals for Africa from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last year ranged from 10 per cent for Zimbabwe to less than 40 per cent for the Central African Republic and C?te d'Ivoire to around 75 per cent for Sudan, Chad and Uganda, Mr. Egeland noted.
"Without a doubt, the Security Council helped galvanize the attention and funding we were able to generate for the crises in Darfur and northern Uganda last year," he said.