Aid teams struggling to fill gaps in hot-spots

Even before the latest burst of violence, acute malnutrition rates in parts of northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, reached 23 percent, above the 15 percent emergency level set by the WHO. Photo / AP
Even before the latest burst of violence, acute malnutrition rates in parts of northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, reached 23 percent, above the 15 percent emergency level set by the WHO. Photo / AP

Humanitarian workers are scrambling to fill a void left by the collapse of governments in three of the world's hot-spots amid an unprecedented demand for help in the past year.

In Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is having to step in with other humanitarian groups to provide basic health services that would normally be delivered by a functioning government.

Amid the desperate need for help, officials have been hampered by a severe lack of access due to the bitter fighting and a shortage of funds, and have increasingly become targets themselves.

"The idea of the sanctity of healthcare, the neutrality of healthcare, has been lost in a lot of these crises," WHO director of emergency risk management Richard Brennan said.

He pointed to wanton destruction and looting of health facilities in all three countries, noting that even healthcare workers were "not off limits any more".

Scant resources have been stretched to the limit with three Level 3 emergencies, as termed by the WHO, erupting from November to February. And that's apart from the need to deal with the ongoing devastation of the war in Syria.

The typhoon that hit the Philippines, as well as the outbreak of sectarian fighting in Central African Republic and hostilities in South Sudan were all such Level 3 "emergencies that completely overwhelm local capacities".

The figures are staggering. There are about 9.5 million people in need in Syria, with 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries and 6.2 million displaced internally.

Around 140,000 people are thought to have been killed in Syria, which probably means about 600,000 have been injured, said Brennan. In both the CAR and South Sudan, there are about 700,000 displaced and 200,000 refugees.

Appeals for funds have also fallen on deaf ears, with a call for South Sudan raising only 23 per cent of the required US$8 million ($9.4 million) while the CAR has largely been forgotten with a US$16 million appeal bringing in only 11 per cent of that.

The WHO is now trying to get creative with solutions, such as paying directly the salaries of local health care workers to ensure they come to work, while also drawing up longer term strategies to fill the void.

"Food can be airlifted and dropped, and the average person knows what to do with food. You can't just drop medicine. You need to be diagnosed, you need to be treated, you need to be followed up."

- AFP

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