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Economic, Social Trends Endanger World's Uprooted

Economic, Social, Political Trends Endanger World’s Uprooted – UN Refugee Chief

New York, Oct 6 2008 3:10PM

The world’s poor and uprooted people are increasingly at risk as the world struggles with a combination of adverse economic, social and political trends that threaten to trigger even greater displacement in the future, the top United Nations refugee official warned today.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told the opening session of his agency’s governing Executive Committee, that climate change, extreme poverty and conflict are increasingly inter-related, with forced displacement rising and, along with it, demands on UNHCR.

At the end of 2007, there were 11.4 million refugees, and the number is climbing, while the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) – those who, unlike refugees, have not crossed a border – is also increasing, he said. Out of the 26 million people internally displaced by armed conflict, UNHCR works with 14 million in 28 countries, more than twice the number in 2005.

“Competition for scarce resources has become an increasingly important factor in provoking and perpetuating violence,” he added, stressing that said it would be “tragic” if the current global financial crisis resulted in a decline in funding for humanitarian needs at the same time that demands were increasing dramatically.

“We are confronted with a series of interlinked conflicts in an arc of crisis that stretches from South-West Asia to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa,” Mr. Guterres declared, calling for called for a debate on the international community’s response to the growing scale and complexity of forced displacement. “Some of them are deepening, with important implications for global security."

This year UNHCR has already exceeded the 197 emergency deployments it made in 2007. Funds drawn from the agency’s operational reserve for emergencies rose from $34 million in 2006 to more than $87 million in 2007 and an expected $150 million this year.

In 2008, global UNHCR expenditure will increase to $1.6 billion, compared to $1.1 billion in 2006. Mr. Guterres said these figures highlighted the dramatic pressure being placed on UNHCR, despite reforms begun in 2006 that included streamlining its Geneva headquarters to devote as many resources as possible to field operations.

Headquarters has been reduced from 1,047 staff at the beginning of 2006 to 747 today. The number is expected to drop below 700 by mid-2009. The proportion of UNHCR’s budget spent on headquarters is expected this year to fall to about 9 per cent, from 13.9 per cent in 2006. Globally, the proportion of staff costs is projected to fall from 42.5 per cent in 2006 to 33.3 per cent next year.

More than $22 million in savings from the reforms have already made “a real difference in the lives of our beneficiaries” by addressing crucial gaps in the areas of malaria, malnutrition and reproductive health, as well as sexual and gender-based violence in several countries, Mr. Guterres said.

“While we are doing our very best to minimize costs, our budget does not allow us to meet the global needs of our beneficiaries,” he added. “With high food and energy prices, their welfare is seriously at risk. At the same time, we are asked to do more and more and to respond to greater and greater demands.

“I fully recognize the challenges of the current financial environment. At the same time, I must point out that the resources required to support the 31 million people we care for are very modest indeed when compared to the sums being spent to bring stability to the international financial system.”

Noting that “a hungry man is an angry man,” he warned that if the international community fails to meet the basic needs of the world’s poor, “then we can only expect more social and political turmoil in the years to come.”


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