PHILIPPE BOULLE laughs ironically at the suggestion that he must
be working 24 hours a day.
"Wrong," says the New York director of the United Nations
Disaster Relief Organization, "48 hours a day."
Indeed, international relief officials have difficulty recalling
such a frenetic time with so many people in diverse points of the
planet at risk from a variety of disasters, natural and man-made.
After weeks of squalor and desperation, hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi Kurdish refugees are finally going home. In Bangladesh, 4
million to 5 million people remain at risk following the country's
deadliest cyclone in 20 years. Peru's cholera epidemic is
threatening Latin America. Costa Rica and Soviet Georgia are digging
out from earthquakes.
Even Burma (also known as Myanmar) is on Mr. Boulle's list, two
weeks after a fire there left 25,000 people homeless and in need of
But the biggest crisis of all - what relief officials call a
"slow-moving disaster" - has barely begun to make headlines:
looming mass starvation in Africa that could be worse than the
famine of 1984-85. Some 27 million people across the continent are
affected. Deaths from starvation have already been reported in
Sudan, where the World Food Program estimates some 7.7 million
people are at risk. In Ethiopia, that number could reach 6 million.
"It gives one a sense of how vulnerable much of the world is,"
says Rudy von Bernuth, chief operating officer of CARE. "And it
shows that there are many parts of the world where it doesn't take
much to push the situation over the edge."
International development and relief organizations, where tight
resources are a constant, report a mixed bag of donation patterns
from the American public. Catholic Relief Services reports a 5
percent drop. CARE says giving is up 6 percent. At the American Red
Cross, says press spokeswoman Ann Stingle, "people are donating, but
probably at a slower rate than we'd normally expect." She cites the
recession as one restraint on donations.
Karen Childers, head of direct mail for Save the Children, speaks
of "an incredible response": $550,000 in the past couple of weeks in
response to a special appeal for the Kurds and $70,000 for
Bangladesh that came in "spontaneously."
But even an increase in donations pales in the face of demand.
Bangladesh alone has declared that it needs $1.4 billion for relief
To help ease immediate problems, such as contaminated drinking
water, President Bush Sunday ordered thousands of US marines and
Army Special Forces to join the international effort in the
cyclone-torn country. …