Months of heavy rainfall led to serious flooding in Togo, Ghana, Niger, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, and to a lesser extent in Liberia and Mauritania, destroying homes, crops and infrastructure, and exposing thousands to water-borne diseases, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).“In spite of the tremendous challenges we face currently in our efforts to respond to all these weather-related emergencies around the world, we must strive to ensure that all those in need of humanitarian help receive it,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes. “In West Africa, flooding has hit some of the most vulnerable people who have a limited ability to cope. The international community must not forget them,” added Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. The immediate needs include maintaining high levels of alert to avert major disasters in the coming weeks and having equipment ready to redirect flood waters away from settlements.Also vital is providing required health kits to prevent outbreaks of water-borne diseases and delivering food aid to the most vulnerable.OCHA noted that a series of workshops on flood preparedness and management it held in the affected countries ahead of the rainy season this year helped reduce the impact of the flooding compared to 2007, when some 800,000 people were affected by floods. More than 200 people died due to last year’s flooding, compared to just over 30 this year.The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has sent emergency teams to affected areas in Togo and is assisting the government’s response with cash donations. ECOWAS, in partnership with OCHA, is also in the process of setting up a regional stockpile of non-food relief supplies in Mali as a disaster preparedness measure. 10 September 2008The United Nations humanitarian arm said today that continued assistance is needed for an estimated 130,000 people affected by severe flooding in West Africa, where several countries were already suffering from the impact of the global food crisis.
The best estimates for 2002 now show a budgetary target of $825 million, which is equivalent to the projected income for the year, the agency said in a statement issued today in Geneva. Compared with this year’s initial budget of $954.9 million, it represents a reduction of $130 million, or about 14 per cent. “What we have done is painful but absolutely necessary to make UNHCR a better focused, leaner and ultimately a better funded organization,” said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, the architect of the plan.UNHCR noted that some of the savings required reductions in the number of posts and the scaling back of field operations. But considerable savings also stem from the long-planned phasing down of the organization’s involvement in certain regions of the world, such as East Timor and the Balkans.Under the plan, the overall number of UNHCR posts is expected to go down from 4,828 today to 4,065 by the end of next year. The net result is the abolishment of 939 posts, offset by the creation of 174 new posts in areas vital for the agency’s operations.One vital part of the plan in the mid-term is to improve the funding of UNHCR’s programmes. Although the agency’s annual budget has been approved each year by its 57-nation Executive Committee, the OK for the budget has not necessarily meant that the very same governments come up with the funds. Indeed, over the last few years, the organization has endured annual shortfalls. “When our stakeholders give us a job to do, they also have to make sure we have the adequate resources,” Mr. Lubbers said.In other news, UNHCR today welcomed last week’s approval by the European Union of a Directive on a European regime of temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons, noting that it was in agreement with almost all aspects of the Directive.Commenting on the measures aimed at controlling undocumented arrivals into the European Union by imposing stiff sanctions on those facilitating such arrivals, UNHCR said it was essential that any such measures be administered “with sensitivity and flexibility, lest they inadvertently obstruct refugees and asylum-seekers from reaching safety.”