GENEVA - The United Nations on Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.
"This recession is driving up humanitarian needs," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.
A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.
While there have been no large natural disasters so far in 2009, the global downturn has amplified needs in impoverished countries, and especially in those in protracted crisis such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
Pakistan's military incursion against Taliban fighters that has sent two million people from their homes has also stretched U.N. aid operations, which are meanwhile expanding in Iraq and Zimbabwe as a result of better aid worker-access there.
"Humanitarian need is increasing because of economic crisis and other global challenges," the report said, saying the loss of jobs and decline in remittances from relatives overseas had pushed more people into poverty and made food, health and education harder to access.
RISE IN DISTRESS MIGRATION
"There is likely to be a rise in distress migration, malnutrition and social unrest," it said. "Extreme economic hardship is likely to generate new, or exacerbate existing, social tensions and conflict."
For the most part, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, traditional donors such as the United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and the Nordics have not slashed their aid budgets, "many of which were set before the financial crisis exploded in the last quarter of 2008."
"However, budgets will be under greater pressure for 2010, because of the expected declines in government revenue if national income continues to fall and simultaneous increases in government borrowing for economic stimulus spending," the report circulated on Tuesday read.
The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major U.N. humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.
Countries with the biggest funding gaps include Sudan ($916 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo ($505 million), Zimbabwe ($458 million) and Somalia ($428 million).
Pakistan, which has seen the most dramatic change following the army offensive against militants that caused more than 2 million people to flee their homes, has a $312 million gap.
The U.N. report also stressed that Kenya has sunk into a more perilous situation, with food becoming more expensive and scarce, and refugee camps filling up with thousands of people fleeing violence in neighbouring Somalia, where insecurity has made it increasingly difficult and costly to deliver aid.
Zimbabwe's funding needs have increased because of ongoing humanitarian pressures and also because the new power-sharing government has opened the door to more humanitarian activity.
"Similarly, in Iraq, funding requirements have gone up in part because of a need to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for return and resettlement," the U.N. report said.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)