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World Disasters Report: More Than 600 Million People Affected Last Year

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports a record number of natural and man-made disasters last year. In its annual World Disasters Report 2003, the agency says headline-grabbing emergencies are taking away funds from lesser-known but just as deadly humanitarian crises. The World Disasters Report says more than 600 million people were affected by natural and man-made catastrophes last year. That is three times the annual average for the previous decade.

According to the report, drought in India alone affected 300 million people during 2002. It says while famine remains by far the deadliest disaster, floods affected more people across the globe than all other natural and manmade disasters combined.

The report states that much international aid has focused on high-profile disasters, such as those in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, at the expense of more forgotten or neglected disasters in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Russia.

In remarks to journalists, the editor of the report, Jonathan Walter, says tragedies that receive a lot of attention have always gotten more aid, but he says the trend has become even more pronounced in recent years. For example, he says throughout the 1990's, humanitarian aid to Afghanistan averaged about 100 million dollars a year. But after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Mr. Walter says the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan rose to 300 million dollars a year.

"However, the needs are no greater now than they were before September 11," he said. "In the late 1990's, there was a catastrophic drought and the World Food Program estimated that the 3.5 million Afghans were in need in August 2001; suddenly after September 11, this figure rose up to nine million people in need, even though no new needs assessment had been carried out."

The World Disasters Report also expresses concern about the increasing involvement of military forces in humanitarian operations. It says many humanitarians fear that the relief work being performed by soldiers in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq has blurred the lines between civilian and military humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Walter says if this trend continues, aid workers risk losing their impartial status and could be targeted or even killed by warring factions.