UNHCR receives early pledges totalling $317 million for 2003 budget
GENEVA, December 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today received pledges covering nearly one-third of its over US$1 billion total projected needs for 2003, the bulk of which will go to Africa and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, donor governments met at the UN Office in Geneva to pledge $280 million towards UNHCR's worldwide programmes in 2003, bringing the total contributions promised so far to $317 million, or nearly one-third of the agency's total projected needs for next year.
"The initial pledges are higher than ever and they are generally more flexible - a sign that the donors heeded our call for early pledges with less earmarking for specific regions," said Anne Willem Bijleveld, UNHCR's Director of Communications. "We are particularly pleased to see a widening of our traditional donor base, with contributions announced for the first time by some Central European countries."
The donor announcements were made during the refugee agency's annual pledging conference in response to UNHCR's 2003 Global Appeal, which covers its worldwide funding needs. Although the pledges cover only a third of the overall requirements, they are seen as a good early signal of donor support.
UNHCR's 2003 funding appeal includes the agency's $836.3 million annual budget, as well as a number of supplementary programmes that cover an array of humanitarian needs from Afghanistan to Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Zambia and Sri Lanka.
Out of the annual budget, Africa will receive the largest portion - $325 million. Specifically, East and Horn of Africa will receive $112.8 million, with $84.8 million for West Africa, $82.5 million for the Great Lakes, $38 million for Southern Africa and $6.7 million for North Africa.
"Although large numbers of displaced persons have returned to their homes in Eritrea and Sierra Leone over the past year, and in Angola there are hopeful signs that many more will soon be able to return, ensuring their effective reintegration and helping them to rebuild their lives will not be an easy task," High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers told the pledging conference.
On the daunting challenges in Africa, he added, "In spite of the positive progress that has been made in finding lasting solutions for some groups, we nevertheless face many ongoing challenges for others. The turmoil in Liberia resulted in new refugee flows, and recent events in Côte d'Ivoire have also reminded us of the fragile situation in West Africa. I fear this may be the beginning of much more misery."
UNHCR's operations in and around Afghanistan will benefit from the largest chunk of the supplementary funding. Lubbers told donors that more than 2 million people have gone home since the UNHCR-assisted repatriation operation to Afghanistan began in March 2002, and that the agency is preparing for the return of an estimated 1.2 million more refugees next year.
Urging the international community to keep the return momentum and not walk away from Afghanistan, he said, "We will gradually have to shift the emphasis from repatriation to reintegration and reconstruction, if those who have gone home are to stay, and others are to follow."
On UNHCR's overall financial situation this year, the High Commissioner said the agency once again faced a serious funding shortfall of about $25 million despite a series of cost-cutting and austerity measures introduced over the past year. "There is an urgent need to receive this amount," he said.