INSUFFICIENT funds, increased fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and ineffectual Western diplomacy are stifling United Nations aid operations on which almost 4 million people in former Yugoslavia depend, UN officials and diplomats say.
Four UN workers have been killed in recent weeks, relief convoys are being blocked, and food in UN warehouses will run out at the end of July, UN officials say.
The crisis also has stymied preparations for helping millions survive the coming winter and forced cutbacks in important UN-funded social services, including education for refugee children and counseling for rape victims and war-traumatized civilians.
Mediators Lord David Owen of the European Community and Thorvald Stoltenberg of the UN submitted a report to the Security Council July 12 warning that the UN might have to withdraw from Bosnia if fighting escalates and aid supplies are not replenished. Mr. Stoltenberg was to address the Security Council July 13.
Meanwhile, UN aid officials on the ground are badly demoralized. They complain bitterly about the problems posed by the Bosnian factions and the seeming inaction of their own superiors and the international community, especially the Western powers.
"We are extremely frustrated," says a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official. "Everything we are trying to do is gradually being taken away from us by the international community or the combatants."
Laurens Jolles, acting head of the UNHCR office here, adds: "I think this is probably as bad as it has ever been, in the sense that we haven't had so many problems at the same time."
"We are in a major crisis," says Sylvana Foa, the Geneva-based UNHCR spokeswoman. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata has called aid donors to an emergency meeting on July 16 to review the situation.
The crisis has resulted from a combination of factors.
The same governments that sent the UNHCR into Bosnia have failed to fund it adequately. Ms. Foa said that UNHCR received only $130 million of $430 million it sought in April for its Yugoslav programs until December. The agency is trying to help 2 million refugees scattered across former Yugoslavia and 1.8 million others whose lives have been disrupted by 15 months of war.
"People have been giving to this thing for a year and what they are seeing is the situation getting worse and worse," Foa says. But "countries asked us to do a job, and now they have to give us the means to do it. They can't just walk away."
The tendency of the Western powers to "walk away" from their political commitments on Bosnia, particularly the defunct Vance-Owen peace plan, has also greatly contributed to the aid crisis, diplomats and UN officials say.
The plan authored by former UN mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen would have created 10 largely autonomous provinces, but it was spurned by the Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serbs because they would have had to relinquish more than 30 percent of the territory they have conquered through military force.
The West's retreat from threats to impose the plan by force created a vacuum in which President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman, and their Serb and Croat proxies in Bosnia saw an opportunity to divide Bosnia on ethnic lines, diplomats say.
"What this amounts to is negotiating with terrorists," one diplomat says. "By backing off, that was a signal that the West was weak and unwilling to act."
Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Tudjman were further encouraged by the West's consent, through Owen and Stoltenberg (who replaced Mr. Vance when he retired), to partition Bosnia at the expense of the Muslims.
The Muslim-led Bosnian government was left with no choice but to fight to expand the tiny amount of territory it controls to obtain more bargaining leverage, Western diplomats say.
The result, they say, is the upsurge in fighting in central and southern Bosnia, both between the Croats and Muslims and the Serbs and Muslims, which has blocked aid deliveries and multiplied UNHCR's burdens by creating tens of thousands of new refugees and leaving more areas desperate for food and medicines.
Western vacillation also has encouraged the Bosnian Serbs to disrupt with impunity UN aid operations as a means of pressuring the Muslims to capitulate on the Serb-Croat plan, UN officials say.
Disregarding numerous UN-brokered accords, besieging Bosnian Serb forces severed electricity to Sarajevo, cutting the water supply and creating serious health problems among the estimated 380,000 residents.
"We have people in Sarajevo going down to the sewers with buckets for water," Foa says.
UNHCR is unable to distribute the few supplies it still has in the city because the Bosnian Serbs set up a checkpoint on the road from the UN-controlled airport and refuse to allow through fuel needed by UN aid trucks.
The UN Protection Force has a mandate to take all necessary steps to protect aid deliveries, but has been unable to remove the roadblock. "It's not the UN that is saying `We won't clear that barricade,' " Foa says. "It is the [Western] countries that provide the troops to the UN."
Elsewhere, Bosnian Serb forces have cut the water supply to the 30,000 residents and refugees trapped in the eastern Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. They continue to harass UN aid convoys bound from Belgrade to Srebrenica, Gorazde, Sarajevo, and Tuzla, UN officials say.
Officials in Belgrade also have contributed bureaucratic hurdles to UN aid operations based here.
In late spring, Belgrade instituted visa requirements for UN personnel, including the truckers who deliver aid to Bosnia. After a long delay, Belgrade began granting visas restricting the drivers to only three entries. Once across the border, the drivers must then wait for new visas. Those still denied visas include Nicholas Morris, the new special UNHCR envoy to former Yugoslavia.