|20 March 2006
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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
After every earthquake, flood, or other disaster, the call goes out for pledges to fund emergency relief. Then a second round of begging tries to convert those pledges into actual payments. In the meantime, some relief is delayed, and people die. Money that does eventually come may not be in proportion to the need. For example, relief funding for the 26 December 2004 tsunami generally came rapidly and exceeded the amount requested, but famine relief for 3.5 million Kenyans suffering drought is now 75% underfunded.
The United Nations on 9 March formally launched a landmark $500-million fund – with over half that amount already pledged – to jump-start relief operations in future natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay under the current under-funded mechanism.
So far, donors have pledged $254 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a key reform sought by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to ensure swifter responses to humanitarian emergencies, with adequate funds made available within three to four days as opposed to up to four months or more under current arrangements.
"We meet to launch a fund that is proactive rather than reactive. The CERF will provide a ready pool of resources that better empower the United Nations in funding immediate relief efforts in the aftermath of disasters," Mr. Annan said at UN Headquarters in New York.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland will manage the Fund. "We are working on the two first allocations from the CERF…One is to the Horn of Africa and Kenya drought, the other one is to Côte d’Ivoire where humanitarian work and the civilian population is suffering so much," he said. "Too often, aid resembles a lottery in which a few win but most lose based on considerations other than need. We must move from lottery to predictability so all those who suffer receive aid."
The biggest donations paid so far are $41 million from Sweden and $30 million from Norway. The largest pledges are $70 million from the United Kingdom and $24 million from the Netherlands.
Source: UN News Centre
Developing countries could prevent millions of premature deaths every year by encouraging people to exercise, eat a balanced diet and not smoke, say public health specialists.
In four articles published by The Lancet, the specialists say that these and other low-cost methods could reduce deaths from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease by two per cent every year.
The journal’s editor Richard Horton says this target should be added to the eight UN Millennium Development Goals, which aim to tackle global poverty and disease by 2015.
Although chronic diseases kill nearly 30 million people a year in low- and middle-income countries, they receive much less attention there than infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Writing in The Lancet, a team led by Robert Beaglehole of the World Health Organization's department of chronic diseases attempts to dispel some 'myths' about chronic diseases.
They say chronic diseases are often wrongly perceived as "diseases of affluence", despite 80 per cent of deaths they cause being in low- to middle-income countries. Also, methods to prevent these deaths — such as public health programmes to reduce tobacco use — are far less costly than is widely believed.
Beaglehole's team says statistics from rich countries, where death rates from heart disease have dropped by up to 70 per cent in the past 30 years because of public health efforts, prove that deaths from chronic disease can be cut.
These efforts need not be beyond the means of poorer nations, says Beaglehole, pointing out that in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, governments are successfully adopting a 'stepwise' approach to tackling chronic diseases.
Such an approach allows heath authorities to make best use of their limited resources by carefully planning action and implementing each step in turn, starting with those steps that are possible immediately and will have the biggest impact relative to the investment.
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