CHARITIES around the region are facing a serious funding shortfall because of the generosity of the public in responding to the tsunami disaster.

On the eve of Comic Relief, one of the biggest fundraising events of the year, several charities have confirmed that donations have fallen significantly in recent months as the public, moved by television pictures showing the suffering in Asia, have pledged millions to disaster relief.

From the end of this month, the Great North Air Ambulance is grounding two of its three helicopters because of a funding crisis, while children and cancer charities have also reported a fall in donations.

Yesterday, even the regional spokesman for Oxfam, one of the charities at the centre of the tsunami appeal, made a plea to kind-hearted North-Easterners to support their local causes.

Although there are no figures available for how much the region contributed to the appeal, it is known that almost £7.5m was donated from the Tyne Tees and Yorkshire Television regions in the first two weeks following the Boxing Day disaster.

Oxfam Northern campaign officer Jonathan Dorset said: "The response from the people of the North-East has been tremendous.

"There was a really generous outpouring to the people affected by the tsunami.

"But now that should be directed to other worthy causes both at home and abroad."

The most serious crisis to date has come at the Great North Air Ambulance Service, which is grounding its Blyth and Cumbria-based aircraft unless it can raise about £40,000.

From March 31, the helicopter based at Durham Tees Valley Airport will serve the whole of the North-East, adding up to ten flying minutes to reach the furthermost parts of the region.

Grahame Pickering, the service's chief executive, said: "Like many charities, our donations have been dramatically affected by the tsunami appeal.

"Our sympathies are with the victims of this disaster, but now, unfortunately, our helicopter has also become a victim."

Fundraising manager Pippa Holt said: "It's a sad situation, but we can't fly on fresh air."

Other charities echoed similar views.

TV personality Kathy Secker, founder of the Grace House appeal which aims to build a children's hospice in Sunderland, said: "The effect is beginning to peter out now and get back to normal, but we have certainly felt it."

Linda McDonagh, regional fundraiser for Marie Curie Cancer Care, said: "The tsunami appeal has definitely had a knock-on effect.

"Much of our revenue comes from the relatives of people who have been helped by our nurses, so it hasn't had a huge impact on our fundraising, but it has certainly had some impact."