Parts of Sudan and Ivory Coast are fighting their central governments; thousands of internally displaced people and refugees are looking for shelter or hoping to return home in West and East Africa; and underdeveloped health care systems across the continent are struggling to cope with disease and food shortages.
As a result, UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker in New York says UN relief agencies are asking for nearly 4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid in the coming year.
Much of it is going to East Africa.
Bunker, who is the spokeswoman for the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs in New York City, says the biggest crisis is in Sudan and its neighbors Chad and Central African Republic. They are the site of massive population upheavals from Sudan’s western Darfur province – where rebels from ethnic African tribes are fighting against an Arab-led government and its allies, militias of Arab nomads.
Bunker says the fighting in the region has left more than four million people at risk of hunger and deprivation, including two million displaced and over 200 thousand refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. In addition, 14 thousand health care workers -- most of them Sudanese -- are helping provide food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation.
Several million people also need assistance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had elections in 2006 after years of civil war. Last year, approximately 700 thousand people returned home, while four million remain displaced.
In West Africa, rebel or separatist activity in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have left governments coping with hundreds of thousands displaced and seeking shelter.
Bunker explains: “When you have a situation with internally displaced or refugees, when people run away from their homes, they sometimes escape with literally just the clothes on their backs. (Once they set up camps), they will need things like cooking sets for the wheat or rice they are given, they will need buckets to go to the well to get water. They need plastic tarpaulins for the rain….”
Disease in Africa is also a recurring problem – due to nutritionally weakened populations and to fragile health care systems that can not provide adequate care for their populations:
“(Malnutrition and disease is a) chronic problem in the Sahel,” says Bunker, “including countries like Mali, Burking Faso, and Niger where there’s a continued need for food aid because 300,000 children die in the Sahel every year from malnutrition. [In West Africa], there have been…numerous cholera outbreaks, meningitis, and yellow fever. Even though parts of West Africa are improving, there is still a need to assist countries where there are population movements. “
In some cases, the UN agencies appeal for fertilizer and crop support to head of a prospective shortage. Bunker explains, “Twice in the last four years, the southern Africa region has tumbled and started to fall off the precipice. We had to have big appeals because you have a country like Zambia or Malawi and you have a bad year, flood, drought, and they are fragile. It does not take much to knock them over the edge again.” In addition she says the work force in some of these countries have been depleted by HIV rates, emigration, and drought. In such situations, she says, an additional stress – either man-made or from nature can be “ the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
All of the aid requested by the UN for southern Africa in the New Year goes to Zimbabwe – which is suffering food shortages from drought, and from Operation Restore Order, a government effort to move migrants and traders mostly from rural areas from what the government says were illegal settlements,
In total, UN agencies are asking donors to provide nearly $3.4 billion dollars to finance humanitarian projects in Sub Saharan Africa in 2007. The West African region, including Ivory Coast,. would require over half a billion dollars; Central Africa, including the states of the Great Lakes, would receive over $900 million; Zimbabwe in the south would receive $214 million, while East African states, including Uganda, Sudan and Somalia, would receive nearly $ 2 billion dollars, with the largest sum ($1.8 billion) going to Sudan.