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The Islamic State and Ebola Have the UN Strapped for Cash

The United Nations is facing a "stark" funding shortage as it attempts to deal with the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa and Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
October 17, 2014, 5:33pm
Photo by Patrick Gruban

Remarks delivered hours apart on Thursday by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN's human rights chief underscored the stark funding deficit facing the world body as it attempts to quell Ebola in West Africa, as well as document and prevent further atrocities in the Middle East.

The latest UN figures reviewed by VICE News show a $988 million emergency request Ban made last month for programs in countries affected by Ebola has been met with only $376 million in funding and donor commitments. That money, offered by 18 countries, the European Union, African Union, World Bank, and private individuals and organizations, is already assigned to various UN agencies and NGOs on the ground in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

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A separate UN Ebola trust fund created to have cash on hand for targeted distribution has received a paltry $100,000.

According to the World Health Organization, the death toll in West Africa has now surpassed 4,500. The UN body predicts that the number of new cases could climb as high as 10,000 per week by December if emergency measures are not implemented.

"This is very serious problem," Ban told reporters in New York. "I would really hope that countries who have the capacity will provide support."

The largest contribution to the UN appeal has been a $105 million commitment from the World Bank. The international lender this month projected a potential $36.2 billion economic impact on West Africa through the end of 2015 if Ebola were to spread elsewhere in the region.

The US has provided nearly $90 million — slightly less than a quarter of the funding — on top of what it is currently spending to deploy troops and health officials in West Africa. By comparison, China has committed only $6 million and France has provided no money to the UN since their request last month.

Speaking on the BBC program "Newsnight," former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said wealthy countries may have acted faster had the disease not first broken out in poor parts of West Africa.

"If the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently," said Annan. "In fact when you look at the evolution of the crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe."

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While US works to contain Ebola, the outbreak in West Africa keeps getting worse. Read more here.

Earlier on Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein told reporters in Geneva that OHCHR is facing a "stark" funding shortage of at least $25 million.

OHCHR receives roughly three percent of the UN's annual budget — $173.5 million for 2014-15, down four million from 2012-2013 — despite being tasked with some of their most high-profile work.

"We are already paring back everything we can, and services are starting to suffer," said Zeid, adding that he doesn't think the UN will be able to open human rights offices in Honduras and Burundi due to its empty coffers.

Zeid's office has its hands full in Syria and Iraq, North Korea, Sri Lanka, the Central African Republic, among others. They also maintain a permanent presence in dozens of countries around the world, monitoring treaties and human rights agreements.

"ISIL is the antithesis of human rights," said Zeid, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State. "It is a diabolical, potentially genocidal movement."

Much of the sparse information available on the condition of civilians living under the Islamic State has come from UN human rights officials in Iraq. A dedicated mission to investigate human rights violations in the country is currently underway.

"States pay lip service to the importance of human rights, but the underfunding of the UN's human rights office speaks volumes," Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News.

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As their costs have risen, OHCHR has had to increasingly rely on private donations to supplement its regular funding.

Zeid said he was frustrated, especially since $25 million shouldn't be so hard to come up with.

"We are asking for less than the amount Americans are forecast to spend on costumes for their pets at Halloween in a few days time — and that includes my family who live in New York," he added.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford

Image via Flickr