U.N. aid chief looks to HK for donations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


If you want to raise funds for a good cause you follow the money.

That is why Catherine Bragg, the United Nations' assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, made her second visit to Hong Kong this year.

She is on a mission to raise awareness of a drought in the Horn of Africa and to loosen purse strings in a city that regards the global structure of humanitarian aid with suspicion.

With traditional Western donors to global disasters in the throes of economic turmoil, it is an opportune time for the UN to expand its reach.

'I put two and two together and I thought there's a lot of money in Hong Kong. You've got to go where the money is,' said Bragg, who was born and raised in the city.

Part of that means developing a culture of giving to humanitarian causes that has not always existed here. 'Hong Kong has a very generous population. The amount of charitable donations per capita is enormous. What is lacking in that tradition is the humanitarian part of it, specifically towards humanitarian crises and specifically through the multilateral system.' On her last trip in January, she focused on shaking hands with the city's tycoons. This time, Bragg targeted a broader audience, including university students, non-governmental organisations, officials from the government's Disaster Relief Fund, and lawyers and bankers.

It was the government's Disaster Relief Fund in particular that made Bragg determined to draw Hong Kong into the global structure of humanitarian aid. The fund gave a record HK$354.26 million in the last financial year to 37 aid programmes, including for earthquake relief in Japan, drought relief in Guangxi , Guizhou and Yunnan ; and to help victims of flooding in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

Yet since its inception in 1993, 79 per cent of donations have gone to the mainland, and less than 5 per cent has gone outside Asia.

Bragg wants more money to flow outside the region and for donations to be reported to the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), for which she acts as deputy emergency relief co-ordinator.

OCHA can better co-ordinate which regions need what kind of aid. It has received US$5.2 billion in response to appeals this year but aims to raise US$9 billion - its highest target to date, up from US$7.2 billion last year and US$3.7 billion four years ago. A major reason for that is the proliferation of global crises.

Famine in East Africa is affecting 13.3 million people, with southern Somalia hit hardest. 15 children were dying everyday in some regions, Bragg said. It was a point she emphasised in a lecture at the University of Hong Kong, held between a lecture at Polytechnic University and a speech at her alma mater, Marymount Secondary School.

Bragg painted a picture of aid as not an 'international fire brigade' but a 'human family' that steps in whenever another country needs help. She noted that developed countries like America and Japan have received aid for natural disasters and that a third of the 124 contributors to OCHA's Central Emergency Response Fund had drawn on it.

'The era when emergency aid was dominated by a few countries and agencies from the West is coming to an end,' she said.