A Very British Appeal: 50 years of the Disasters Emergency Committee

Tonight at 10:35pm ITV will screen a documentary about how the British public, for the last 50 years, has responded with a huge amount of generosity to appeals made by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

DEC_logo_mainEvery time there’s a natural or conflict driven disaster anywhere in the world, 14 of Britain’s biggest aid agencies, including Save the Children, Christian Aid and the British Red Cross to name a few, come together as one under the banner of the DEC who then organise the emotional celebrity led appeals that we see on our TV screens, or hear on the radio. In the 50 years since this British charity began, they have raised over £1billion to help relieve hunger and suffering around the globe, from Ethiopia and Rwanda to Somalia and Syria.

The documentary tonight follows the charity through the last 50 years and 62 DEC appeals. Aid workers talk about lessons learnt from dealing with some of the worlds biggest humanitarian disasters and the presenter Rageh Omaar travels to Haiti where three years ago 220,000 people died during the most deadly earthquake in modern times. He gets to see for himself exactly how the £107 Million you gave to the DEC’s Haiti Appeal has been spent including a visit to a school rebuilt with DEC money.

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Rageh Omaar

The documentary also goes behind the scenes to follow the story of the DEC’s most recent appeal – Syria. From concept to launch, the DEC team attempt to raise the vital funds to ease the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees currently fleeing the crisis over the border to Jordan.

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Traditionally conflicts never raise as much money for the DEC as natural disasters, but over the years the British have been very quick off the mark to donate their money especially during the Kosovo and Darfur crises and the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

If you’d like to watch the documentary it will be screened from 10:35pm until 11:35pm this evening on ITV.

If you would like to donate to the Syria Appeal you can do so by clicking here – http://www.dec.org.uk/appeals/syria-crisis-appeal

You can follow the DEC on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/decappeal

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/DisastersEmergencyCommittee

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World Refugee Day 2013: By the end of the year half of Syria’s population will be displaced

A Syrian refugee plays with her child in front of her family's tent in the Zaatari Syrian Refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan © Mohammad Hannon/AP

A Syrian refugee plays with her child in front of her family’s tent in the Zaatari Syrian Refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan © Mohammad Hannon/AP

Tomorrow (20th June 2013) is World Refugee Day, and with latest events in Syria it is now more important than ever to be aware of the plight of refugees.

There are currently 1,600,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Yesterday UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie was in Jordan where 540,000 refugees reside. She visited one of the camps to mark World Refugee Day and also “to show support for Syria’s refugees, to call on the world to address their plight, and to better understand needs in Jordan and other countries in the region most directly affected by this devastating conflict.”

51c163ce6“The worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century is unfolding in the Middle East today,” Angelina added. “By the end of this year half of Syria’s population – ten million people – are expected to be displaced and in desperate need.”

The UN recently launched the largest emergency appeal in their history for £3.2 billion. In the Zaatari camp in Jordan there are 30,000 children of school age living there but only two schools in operation which are full to capacity, teaching 10,000 children. They are building another school that will be able to house 5,000 children but due to a lack of funding there is no money for the teachers’ salaries or to run it full stop.

Children in the camp are suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable.

The £3.2bn currently sought by the UN is to cover refugees’ most basic needs and only until the end of this year – the situation is critical.

One U.N. agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), has delivered 500 million meals in Syria so far this year. “We have reached a stage in Syria where some of the people, if they don’t get food from the World Food Programme, they simply do not eat,” the WFP’s Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi said.

Syrian refugee children walk after heavy rain at Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq ©  Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

Syrian refugee children walk after heavy rain at Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq ©
Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

The European Union last week promised 400 million euros, Russia and China have so far contributed $10 million and $1 million to the UNHCR. Although it is fantastic that countries all over the world are donating to the cause, the numbers from world governments still falls way short of what they need to survive. It is hoped with the Syria appeal that donations from the likes of you and me will help them reach their target so they can provide for the basic needs of the thousands of refugees streaming out of Syria everyday.

You can help by donating to the WFP here. Alternatively you can help by donating to the UNHCR’s appeal here – UK UNHCR – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria-uk or the Worldwide UNHCR – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

£15 could provide two families with synthetic mats to prevent them from sleeping on the ground.

£30 can provide high thermal fleece blankets to keep a family warm during the bitter winter months.

£80 can provide kitchen equipment for eight families to cook warm food throughout the winter.

£300 can provide a tent to shelter a family from the harsh weather.

Angelina Jolie talks to to Syrian refugees in a camp on the Jordan-Syria border ©AFP/Getty Images

Angelina Jolie talks to Syrian refugees in a camp on the Jordan-Syria border ©AFP/Getty

To understand, on a tiny scale, what it must be like to be a refugee, I’d like to share a story from my post on World Refugee Day last year. Apologies about this but it is a story that has stayed with me ever since I saw it on the television series Equator several years ago.  The presenter Simon Reeve visited a refugee camp on the Somalian/Kenyan border and met a young girl, Fatima, who fled the dangers of her home country Somalia for the camp in Kenya. What really struck me was that she’d never travelled more than 4km from the camp. The Kenyan authorities wouldn’t let her go any further into Kenya and she couldn’t go back to Somalia so therefore had been trapped with thousands of other refugees in the camp for the last 17 years. In the programme, Simon Reeve talked about having a British passport and how he could go anywhere he wanted in the world yet the refugees are confined to what is almost a prison.

After visiting the camp, he said: “Thanks to an accident of birth, I was lucky enough to be able to leave to continue my journey around the world”.

The number of displaced persons around the world currently numbers 45,000,000 due to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. In 2012 alone, 7,600,000 people became refugees, with the total number at its highest since 1994.

Thank you for reading,

Please, please donate if you can by following this link for the UK site – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria-uk or this link for the worldwide UNHCR page – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

Visit the UNHCR here – http://www.unhcr.org.uk/

Donate to the World Food Programme here.

You can follow the UNHCR on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/Refugees

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/UNHCR

The WFP are on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/WFP

And on Facebook here.