The life of eight-year-old Sajaar Ahmed will never be the same. On October 8 a massive earthquake rocked South Asia, bringing Sajaar’s world tumbling down.
"I had two sisters older than me. Now I am all alone," he whispers. The bodies of his two sisters have been found. Six other relatives, including his father, are still missing, buried under the mounds of rubble, in what remains of their remote village of Saukar, in India-administered Kashmir.
Stories like Sajaar’s have been heard repeatedly in 2005. This year has been one of the most catastrophic on record beginning with the Boxing Day tsunami and proceeding with deadly pace to Hurricane Katrina.
In September, Hurricane Stan devastated the Americas sending deadly mudslides down onto villages in Guatemala. Death and famine have stalked southern Africa as food shortages cripple people’s ability to survive. While in West Africa, a terrible and largely avoidable food crisis in the Sahel region has affected 3.6 million people in Niger alone. Up to two million people remain displaced in war-ravaged Sudan.
My own organisation, Oxfam Australia, has been touched by the stories of loss and survival and has been unalterably changed by the events of 2005. The ability of Oxfam and other aid agencies to respond to these crises is due in large part to the generosity of the Australian people and the Australian Government. We rely on funds from governments and the general public in order to carry out humanitarian responses.
The story of Australians’ compassionate response is a different story to that of survival and loss, but no less touching. The spirit of humanity that Australians showed to our neighbours in South and South-East Asia following the tsunami was unprecedented: for many it was their first time to give to a charity.
This month’s South Asia earthquake demonstrated again Australians’ willingness to give in times of great need. In the week immediately following the earthquake, Oxfam Australia received more than $260,000 and the Australian Government pledged $10 million.
Why did this disaster attract more funds than other crises? Why do we not see the same support for little known or “forgotten” crises such as those in Africa?
The trend of public giving is determined in part by media exposure. As media interest wanes, so does funding support. But should this be the way for institutional funding for humanitarian relief and does this provide any degree of confidence that emergency responses will be adequately funded?
The crisis in South Asia illustrates this point. Sajaar waited with his mother for four days before being rescued from his remote village. Reports indicate that more than two weeks after the earthquake, rescue operations were still being carried out - in the rain and snow.
Despite the initial outpouring of funds, UN Secretary General Kofi Anan has stated that only a fraction of the $312 million in aid requested by UN humanitarian agencies has been pledged by donor countries. There are still not enough shelters or helicopters to reach remote areas, and the needs of many of survivors in the remotest regions have not been adequately assessed.
To tackle this problem, UN agencies need immediate access to money in order to respond to emergencies in a timely and effective way. This would allow quick deployment of personnel and resources.
In the coming weeks, the Australian Government will have to make a decision on whether to support the United Nations' proposed Central Emergency Response Fund. By having up to $1 billion on tap through this ongoing fund, United Nations agencies would be able to respond more immediately to forgotten emergencies rather than spending weeks and months passing the proverbial bucket around for reluctant governments to finance emergency responses. In a very real way it could mean that children like Sajaar do not have to wait four days to be rescued.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.