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05 February, 2003
The European Commission has approved a humanitarian aid plan to help meet humanitarian needs in Africa, totaling 71 million euros. More specifically, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will receive 35 million euros, while 16 million euros will be given to meet needs in three countries in Coastal West Africa (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia), and the remaining 20 million euros will be destined for civil war-ravaged Sudan.
These funds will be channeled through partner organizations working in the field by the Humanitarian Aid Office, ECHO, which comes under the responsibility of Commissioner Poul Nielson. ''ECHO always aims to provide humanitarian assistance on an equitable, needs-driven basis. The DRC program has been one of our biggest in recent years because the needs there are so great'', said Mr Nielson. ''2003 will be no exception. However, this year ECHO will be able to focus more on front-line humanitarian priorities such as health and food, as longer term donors complete their take-over of substantial health, food security and rehabilitation programs''.
Congo: In Congo, despite recent progress on the political and military front, the country is still plagued by instability and faces a great number of challenges. Humanitarian needs are as great as ever, and Congolese continue to die in large numbers, with mortality rates approaching five times the sub-Saharan norm in some front-line areas. However only a small proportion of this 'excess mortality' is directly attributable to acts of violence. The main killers are not bullets and machetes, but malaria and malnutrition, owing to the breakdown of food production and basic health services.
ECHO funds will be used to treat some 60,000 acutely mal-nourished children, while addressing the causes of malnutrition by providing their families with food, seeds and tools. About 115,000 families with malnourished or otherwise vulnerable children will be assisted in this way.
ECHO will continue to support the Congolese public health system through the provision of drugs, training and supervision. Specific action will also be taken on mother and child healthcare, reproductive health, malaria, emergency obstetrics and secure blood transfusion. The fees charged by the health system will be greatly reduced, because even the token amounts involved have been shown to deter the poorest people from seeking medical help. Taking into account a likely increase in demand due to lower fees, ECHO aims to assist some 4.5 million people in 55 health districts in 2003.
Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia: The three countries of Coastal West Africa covered by this decision have experienced a succession of wars and civil strive over the last 13 years. Although recent developments in Sierra Leone have been positive, substantial amounts of humanitarian and rehabilitation aid will still be necessary in 2003. ECHO funding will support the re-integration of an estimated 220,000 people that are returning home after refuge in Guinea or in other parts of Sierra Leone. ECHO will also target about 60,000 Liberian refugees, as well as vulnerable people living in newly accessible areas who have lost much of their basic infrastructure due to the fighting.
Guinea is the long-term host of large numbers of refugees fleeing strife in the region. Although most of the 70,000 refugees from Sierra Leone should be repatriated in 2003, an additional influx of Liberians (in addition to the 50,000 already in Guinea) cannot be ruled out. ECHO will support the logistical aspects of repatriating refugees to Sierra Leone through the first half of 2003, as well as health and non-food items. Refugees from Liberia will continue to need a humanitarian package consisting of health, water/sanitation, shelter, non-food items and protection.
However the conflict in Liberia develops over the next 12 months, vulnerable and internally displaced people will remain dependent on humanitarian aid. ECHO will provide this as needs arise and access allows. ECHO funds will be used primarily for health care, water and sanitation, non-food items and protection.
Sudan: Large numbers of Sudanese people are dependent on emergency relief aid due to almost twenty years of civil war. The long-term conflict has killed more than 2 million people and has forced the displacement of about 4 million more.
ECHO has planned a comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan covering the next 18 months, starting from January this year. If the cease-fire agreement signed between the Government of Sudan and opposing armed factions in October 2002 holds, areas of the country previously inaccessible to aid workers will be opened up and increasingly large return movements of internally displaced people may start to take place.
If the peace process fails and fighting resumes, continued humanitarian aid will be necessary. Regardless of political developments, ECHO will continue covering the whole territory according to needs, and in strict respect of internationally recognized humanitarian principles.
The priority sectors of intervention covered by this global plan will include health and nutrition, water and environmental sanitation, emergency preparedness and response, and household food security. The global plan also covers operational support for humanitarian operations (e.g., transport, security) and special mandates (e.g. civilian protection and tracing). As well as funding emergency live-saving operations, ECHO support is intended to contribute to a gradual process of recovery by giving people the means to become more self-reliant.
From 1993 to 2002 ECHO has allocated over 176 million to Sudan, making it one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to the country.
Source: Athens News Agency