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Financial Crisis Threatens World's Most Vulnerable

As the humanitarian crisis worsens in the Democratic Republic of Congo, aid workers are warning that the global financial crisis will hurt the world's most vulnerable people. Some are now predicting that death rates for the world's poorest could increase rapidly as the global recession bites. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Flipping through his photo album, Buka Mwanza looks back on his last trip to Congo. He says he was kept busy visiting family.

"We're an old-fashioned African family so we have quite a large extensive family," he said.

But it is not just the recent fighting in his homeland that worries him. He is also concerned that humanitarian aid to Congo will be reduced following warnings by aid agencies that the global economic crisis will lead to cut backs by governments and private donors.

"It is human lives that we are talking about. Money is something that comes and goes but a human can't be replaced," added Mwanza.

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says the agency relies on donations. If it gets less, it must spend less.

"The UNHCR is almost entirely funded by voluntary contribution so every contribution, from individuals on the street to governments in their capitals, is vital. Obviously when governments are devoting huge amounts of money into stabilizing their economies, those have an effect on the humanitarian programs like UNHCR and our partners," said Kessler.

The UNHCR has refugee camps all over the world, from Afghanistan, to southern Africa and even in the Darfur region of Sudan. Kessler warns that the impact of cutting programs could be devastating.

"People shouldn't forget the fact that there are tens of millions of people who rely upon the UN refugee agency and our partners for food, water assistance, protection and without these programs there will not be the care available, that people will indeed suffer and could indeed die," said Kessler.

It is not just UNHCR that's concerned. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent held a conference in South Africa recently to discuss the issue of dwindling aid.

And there is another danger to the financial crisis - rising global unemployment. The International Labor Organization is warning that as many as 20 million people worldwide might lose their jobs as a result of the financial crisis.

Claire Melamed with Action Aid, an international anti-poverty group, says this is a serious concern for developing countries.

"This is the flip side of the growth that we have seen in China and India which have been based on exporting things to rich countries. This is the downside in a sense, when demand dries up then jobs disappear," said Melamed.

A vicious cycle, aid officials and humanitarian workers warn - and one that could see the world's most vulnerable pushed precariously closer to the edge.