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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 00:30 GMT 01:30 UK
War on terror 'hurts poor'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

The world stands accused of double standards in its thirst to end the scourge of international terrorism.

Thumb-sucking child   Red Cross
The UK is supposed to be a free democracy, but we're locking up people without any access to judicial review
Robbie Thomson, Red Cross & Crescent Federation
Aid donors and relief agencies, a report says, are concentrating increasingly on politically strategic countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

They are neglecting emergencies in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

It adds that the developed world spends too much trying to exclude asylum seekers, and too little helping them.

One British peer is quoted as saying the UK's asylum policy reminded him of apartheid.

The charge comes in the federation's World Disasters Report 2003.

Its president, Juan Manuel Suarez del Toro, said: "We are facing a real inequity in global humanitarian practice where many of the world's wars and disasters have become forgotten emergencies.

BBC News Online looks at some of the world's 'forgotten' disasters

"If the aid community and donors are committed to providing aid on an impartial basis, they must act on their principles and intervene where the needs are most acute."

The report says the US Defense Department raised $1.7bn of relief and reconstruction aid in April 2003 for Iraq.

It contrasts this with the $1bn shortfall in funds faced then by the UN World Food Programme to avert starvation among 40 million Africans in 22 countries.

Politically mute

It criticises not only governments, but aid agencies as well which, it says, are partly responsible for failing to draw attention to some of the world's more intractable emergencies.

International agencies, the report says, remained largely silent during the 2002 drought in southern Africa about the political manipulation of both food aid and governments' grain supplies.

They argued that keeping a foothold in the countries concerned was all-important. But they were accused of failing to stand up for starving people.

Turkish earthquake aftermath
Turks help Turks in quake rescue
Aid agencies are also blamed by the federation for sometimes providing the wrong kind of aid.

Two-thirds of the money pledged for Afghanistan at the Tokyo donor conference in January 2002 was for humanitarian help.

But despite protests by the Afghan authorities, much of this arrived in the form of unwanted food aid which has distorted the country's agricultural economy.

One estimate suggests the profit from opium production in Afghanistan is 20 to 40 times more than from growing wheat.

More survivors

Sometimes the agencies' contribution is disproportionately small, the federation says: after the Marmara earthquakes in Turkey in 1999, 98% of the 50,000 people pulled alive from the rubble were rescued by local people.

The report says more disasters were recorded in 2002 than in any of the 10 previous years.

Fewer people were reported killed: 24,500, compared with the decade's annual average of 62,000. But 608 million people were affected, including 300 million in the Indian drought.

Weather-related disasters are still rising, from an annual average of 200 between 1993 and 1997 to 331 from 1998 to 2002.

The report calls the plight of many migrants "a forgotten disaster". They are economically important, sending home about $80bn annually, against the $50-55bn of governments' development aid.

The UN estimates the European Union's population is shrinking so fast it would need 207 million migrant workers to keep its labour force at 2000 levels until 2050.

Apartheid echoes

The report says the real asylum crisis is that "too much money is spent keeping asylum seekers out of the North, and not enough on helping them in the South".

On the UK's policy, it quotes a comment by Lord Joffe, former legal adviser to Nelson Mandela, during a parliamentary debate in 2002 on the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

He said: "I could not help but be struck by certain parallels between this Bill and legislation in apartheid South Africa."

Robbie Thomson, of the federation, told BBC News Online: "The UK is supposed to be a free democracy, but we're locking up people without any access to judicial review. Can this be right?"

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04 Jul 03  |  Scotland
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13 Mar 03  |  Scotland


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