LONDON (AP)--Geography, politics, and media coverage, rather than need and suffering, determine how much humanitarian aid individuals and governments are willing to give, an international charity said Wednesday.

"The West is bound by international laws which say that people in need, wherever they are, have equal status and rights to help," said Nicola Reindorp, a policy adviser to Oxfam, a London-based organization. "But in practice, there's nothing equal about it. An accident of geography or dramatic pictures can decide whether you live or die."

According to the Oxfam report, which was written by Reindorp, contributions to last year's United Nations Appeal for the former Yugoslavia, where NATO troops carried out a 78-day bombing campaign against the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo, equaled about $207 for each person in need. That compares with $16 for people suffering in Sierra Leone (which has been scarred by an eight-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands and left many more mutilated and dismembered) and $8 to aid the victims of the civil war in Congo.

The European Union also siphoned more than half of its humanitarian aid money to use in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia; four times as much was spent there as was spent in Africa, the Pacific, and the Caribbean combined, the report said.

It also found that the proportion of the West's wealth spent on humanitarian aid has fallen by a third in the last 10 years. Leading industrialized nations spent about $5 a head of their population on emergency aid--the equivalent to two days of global military spending, the report said.

Worldwide, about 135 million people are homeless and have lost their livelihoods because of droughts, floods, and earthquakes, and another 30 million have fled their homes because of war. "What the world needs are concerted efforts to prevent conflict, tackle poverty, and uphold human rights," Reindorp said. "Humanitarian aid is vital to achieve this. People need to be alive to benefit from political solutions."

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