As Bosnia war rages, U.N. is losing aid battle World's donations of food dropping

May 27, 1993|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff Writer

ZAGREB, Croatia -- International compassion for the people of Bosnia may be reaching its financial limit.

Whether disgusted by the war's ugliness or exhausted by its longevity, donors didn't fulfill the last call for pledges by the United Nations, a rare failure that could signal aid cutbacks down the road, officials say.

"We're way below where we would like to be on food, and this is a situation we've been warning people about since December and January," said Robert Morton, the United Nations' emergency food coordinator for the former Yugoslavia. "The bust came in April, when the warehouse in Metkovic was essentially empty."

Mr. Morton said he hoped the situation would improve in June, when pledges begin coming in from the latest U.N. appeal. But MacKay Wolff, senior program officer on Bosnia for the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, said that the appeal came up short, even though "In the past, they've almost always met the goals of their appeals."

As a result, he said, he had cut his monthly budget from its $10 million level in May to $8 million for June. A hiring freeze on aid workers is now in effect.

Although the United Nations is the bulwark of the Bosnian relief effort, it isn't the only organization feeling pinched by a decline in international generosity.

"It's definitely true that there is a certain weariness, and most organizations are finding it difficult to get enough funds and to get them in time," said Vilna Von Aartsen, head of the Bosnian effort for the Dutch group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Officials cite several possible reasons for the drop-off.

One could be the drain caused by the recent frequency of well-publicized international disasters in recent years, such as the famine amid anarchy in Somalia and the plight of Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq and Turkey.

It could also be that the ugliness of Bosnia's war, with its mass rapes, "ethnic cleansing" and dearth of good guys, has left people cold. If so, that's a mistake, one official said.

"There may be no good guys at the political level and the level of the warlords," said Karen Landgrem, chief of mission for the UNHCR's Bosnian effort. "But beneath them is this tremendous mass of suffering people."

Amid the chaos of Bosnia's political landscape, there also may be some international ambivalence about aspects of the U.N. role.

Limited in its peacekeeping role by a narrow mandate, it also hasn't been easy for the United Nations to make sure food always gets into the right hands, so sometimes the aid effort has acted as a quartermaster to the armies.

But as money slackens, the ability to control food distribution more tightly is only weakened. It's either that or start cutting back on the food supplies, officials say.

According to relief officials in the United States, media attention also plays a crucial role for public contributions. "If it's not on the front page, it drops off a little bit," said Dwain Schenck of Connecticut-based AmeriCares.

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