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Decade of disaster prompts U.N. to expand emergency aid system

Decade of disaster prompts U.N. to expand emergency aid system

Wars in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, a huge tsunami, earthquakes and famines - it has been a busy decade for the rescue business. So much so that the U.N. has decided to expand its emergency service.
Since 2000, the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot had been based in a corner of a military base near the southern Italian port of Brindisi.
For many people fleeing conflicts and disasters, the first aid they received was flown out from an 80-year-old corrugated iron shed stocked to the rafters with tents, blankets generators, water purification machines and food rations.
"Our raison d'etre is to intervene as quickly as possible in an emergency, because getting there a few hours earlier means saving more lives," said Giuseppe Saba, the manager of the base run by the World Food Program, the world's biggest aid agency which has an annual budget of some US$3 billion.
But Saba's operation, which has sent more than 130 emergency consignments to 30 countries since 2000, is no longer enough.
This year WFP is setting up four similar hubs around the world.
"During the (2004 Asian) tsunami, the only humanitarian base which would make an immediate response to the emergency was Brindisi, that was the only place we had equipment and stocks," said Saba.
"During that operation the costs of aid flights from Brindisi to south-east Asia were so high that we thought with the cost of two to three flights we could cover the costs of having a decentralised base in south-east Asia."
Cooperation
The same logic applied to other areas - it is a costly business to fly huge cargo aircraft anywhere in the world from Italy. So as well as a new WFP base in Malaysia, the aid agency is opening a Dubai base to serve the Middle East and one in Panama for Latin America.
A new African base, in Ghana, has already opened, flying food aid to Chad for refugees from the Darfur conflict.
Brindisi remains the global base for WFP's emergency operations, storing and shipping not only WFP aid but also goods for other U.N. agencies like the World Health organization, government agencies like Irish Aid, and non-governmental groups like U.S. charity World Vision.
WFP hopes there will be more cooperation between the aid groups, both U.N. and non-U.N., which flock to disaster zones, to avoid duplication of efforts and confusion in what are by their very nature difficult situations.
"The tsunami taught us a lot," said Saba.
"We looked at what went right and some things that went wrong and this led us to increase this cooperation between the various agencies, to be complementary, to integrate our systems, resources and know-how."