U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva that he does not believe last year's devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean siphoned money away from other needy operations.
He says earthquakes and tsunamis are such dramatic events they attract immediate attention and generous support. On the other hand, he says slow growing emergencies such as drought and the HIV-AIDS crisis tend to get a slow response or are overlooked.
He says there are in-built imbalances when it comes to giving. He notes Africa traditionally gets less money than other regions in the world.
"If you are in Africa, you are systematically discriminated against in our attention and in our generosity and in what we give," he said. "And, it should not be an added problem that you are in a French or a Portuguese-speaking country which are systematically lower on our funding table than many of the English-speaking countries. It should not be like that. We should give according to needs and that is not happening at the time."
The United Nations notes that eight French and Portuguese-speaking African countries have received practically no money from donors. For example, Mr. Egeland says the Central African Republic only has received six percent of its $23.6 million appeal. Other countries that have received less than 10 percent of what they need include Djibouti, the Republic of Congo, Guinea and Burundi.
Of all the desperate cases, he considers Niger to be the number-one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world. He says one-third of Niger's 12 million inhabitants is caught in a severe food crisis due to drought and a locust invasion of biblical proportions. He says 800,000 children under five are going hungry.
"One hundred and fifty thousand of those will die if they do not get help soon because they already are showing signs of severe malnutrition," he said. "We asked for $16.2 million last week for Niger. We still have zero commitment for this. And, we urgently appeal for help for Niger."
The United Nations has appealed for more than $4.5 billion for these 20 forgotten emergencies. U.N. humanitarian chief Egeland, says people in Europe spend five times more money on ice-cream than all these emergencies combined. He says the amount of money North Americans spend on chewing gum is equal to the needs of all these countries.
He calls international assistance a wonderful investment. He says one dollar will immunize a child against killer diseases. He says one dollar will feed a hungry child for two days. He says one dollar can save a life.