Tsunami victims must turn to UN for help
After recent allegations of UN mismanagement and corruption in the Oil for Food Program, many are asking me why the UN should be trusted with aid for those devastated by the Tsunami. My answer: UN agencies, funds and programs have the necessary experience and established physical presence in affected countries and have a good track record of efficient and transparent management of funds.This statement may appear strange to those who know my opinions of UN bureaucracy, and its nepotism and inefficiency, but the explanation is in my use of the words “agencies, funds and programs.” While these organizations form part of the “UN System,” they are not under the control of UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan and his fellow bureaucrats in New York. In fact, they have their own governing bodies, independent sources of funds, and more effective management. They are accountable for their results to donors who can easily cut back voluntary funding if they fail to perform. In this column I will discuss three examples: the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP).The World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for health, is governed by 192 Member States, through the World Health Assembly which is composed mainly of medical professionals. Unlike the United Nations, which relies mainly on mandatory annual contributions from Member States, the WHO has major programs funded in 2004-2005 by some $1.9 billion of voluntary contributions. Most of the money needed for Tsunami-related work will come from additional voluntary contributions. These donors expect results and WHO knows that future funding depends on how well existing contributions are used.The WHO Director-General is chosen by the World Health Assembly – not by the UN – and the current incumbent has a M.D. degree from Seoul National University and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Hawaii. Thus, we have an organization managed by qualified medical professionals, reporting to a governing body composed largely of medical professionals, and with funding by donors who require results.WHO will play a key role in the life-saving and life-preserving impact of all humanitarian action through support to countries affected by the tsunami. WHO’s role will be: tracking patterns of life-threatening diseases among those at risk; working to ensure access to essential health care through key hospitals and health centers; providing guidance on response to disease outbreaks, water quality, excreta management, chemical threats, chronic disease management and mental health; ensuring that medical supply chains function as efficiently as possible and respond to the needs of end-users; and coordinating health actors at local, national and international levels, with agreed strategies and joint action.UNICEF helps millions of the world’s most vulnerable children. As flood waters of the tsunami have contaminated (and in many cases destroyed) water supply systems, millions lack safe water and are at risk of potentially deadly water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea. On January 10 former U.S. President Bill Clinton and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy announced the creation of The Tsunami Water and Sanitation Fund, a joint initiative by the Clinton Foundation and UNICEF that will bring safe drinking water and sanitation systems to over one million affected children and families. UNICEF will also be providing basic nutrition and medical care, caring for children who have lost their families, protecting them from exploitation by child traffickers, and getting them back into school.As a Fund of the United Nations, UNICEF relies 100 percent on some $1.6 billion of voluntary contributions, and it reports to an independent governing body that insists on results. UNICEF’s track record is such that private donations keep on coming, and I have no doubt that they will be used efficiently for the benefit of the Tsunami victims.The World Food Program is the largest international food aid organization in the world, and its largest contributor is the United States. It feeds over 100 million people in 81 countries, delivering some 6 million tons of food at a cost of over $3 billion annually. In the countries affected by the Tsunami, WFP has already delivered almost 8,000 metric tons of food to over one milllion affected people out of a total displaced population of 1.8 million, of whom 284,000 are homeless. Getting food and other supplies to all affected is a major logistical problem and so WFP has taken the lead in establishing the United Nations Joint Centre (UNJLC) for interagency logistics coordination and is working with the Royal Malaysian Air Force on an Air Hub to improve UN delivery of food and non-food items for tsunami victims by the military from Indonesia, the United States, Australia and Singapore.These are great organizations, playing a critical role in aiding victims. Why not consider a donation to UNICEF or WFP if you wish to help? VTPeter Leslie is a former CFO of the United Nations Development Program, now living in Vail. His comments on UN issues are on the web site of the Foreign Policy Association and his column appears periodically in the Vail Trail.
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