Launching its largest ever humanitarian appeal, the UN has sought $7 billion in urgent aid for 30 million people in 31 countries, to tide over the hunger crisis that has been compounded by the economic downturn.
The latest aid appeal dwarfs last year's call by the international agency for $3.8 billion for 25 million people.
"Our aim is to help these most vulnerable people survive the coming year, and enable them to start working their way out of vulnerability and despair towards the dignity, safety and self-sufficiency to which every human being has a right," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the foreword to the Humanitarian Appeal 2009.
By far the biggest appeal ever launched since the creation of the UN Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) in 1991, it covers the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Kenya, occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, the West African region, and Zimbabwe, among others.
The overall humanitarian aid bill for 2009 is expected to go way beyond the $7 billion requested on Wednesday, since the CAP does not include the so-called 'flash appeals' which are launched throughout the year to meet the needs of new natural disasters as they arise.
In formulating this year's CAP, 360 aid organisations including UN agencies, NGOs and other international bodies united to meet the world's major humanitarian challenges in a coordinated, effective and prioritised way, the UN said.
The number of targeted countries has gone up and includes a regional appeal for refugees from Iraq, covering seven countries.
The biggest requirement is for Sudan at just over $2 billion, with the appeal for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) up from $600 million last year to $830 million.
"Millions of people continue to struggle with long-running conflicts, natural disasters, effects of climate change and high food prices. The 2009 Appeal offers concrete help to these people in distress," UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.
He noted that funding for 2008 had so far been better than ever in terms of percentage funded at 67 per cent though it was 'never enough' as there were many projects that were only partially funded, and some projects which were not funded at all.
Despite strains of the global financial crisis, humanitarian budgets should not only be maintained but increased as needs rise due to a number of factors, including climate change and the global food crisis, Holmes said.
He added that he was particularly pleased that the NGO share of the appeal had increased; it is 52 per cent this year. "In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), around 250,000 people are believed to have been displaced in the last two months and the situation is becoming increasingly desperate," UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Executive Director Frafjord Johnson said, referring to the surge in fighting between government and rebel forces in the east of the vast country.
She said more than 100,000 children were 'on the run' in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, either with their families or separated from them.