Aid body prepares to launch famine appeal

MATHEW LITTLE

The Disasters Emergency Committee, the umbrella body for UK aid agencies, is planning to launch a national appeal next week in response to the famine in southern Africa.

It is estimated that 19 million people will be affected by drought in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which is expected to be the worst to hit the region in 50 years if conditions deteriorate during July and August.

National appeals, which comprise television ads on the BBC and ITN fronted by celebrities and free newspaper ads, are only undertaken by the organisation to help relief efforts after major disasters overseas.

During an appeal, which usually lasts two weeks, advertising by individual aid agencies is suspended to allow the public a direct and simple means to donate.

Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, told Third Sector that its board was reviewing the situation in southern Africa and had yet to make a final judgment about the timing of the appeal. "We are planning an appeal in the week beginning 17 June if media interest is sustained,

he said.

"One of the criteria applied by ITN and the BBC in whether to broadcast an appeal is if there is demonstrable public concern."

Gormley said that the appeal for southern Africa would be different to previous ones launched by the organisation. "Our traditional mandate is reactive but money is needed now to provide food, seeds and tools for future months. This is a more challenging sort of appeal. We normally get a good response when a tragedy is in front of people. But this time we are trying to head off a major tragedy,

he said.

Brendan Paddy, senior media officer for emergencies at Save the Children, said that the committee should revise its normal practice of a two-week appeal with a time scale of six months for charities to spend the money.

"Maybe we need a longer appeal than normal because of the nature of the disaster, it's not suited to a short sharp intervention. The crisis will be with us until at least March 2003,

he said.

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