The United Nations General Assembly today set up an emergency fund, expected to total $500 million, to bring immediate relief in natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay.
In a landmark resolution enacting a key reform sought by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Assembly established the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), upgrading the current Central Emergency Revolving Fund, which only had $50 million in resources, to ensure swifter responses to humanitarian emergencies, with adequate funds made available within three to four days.
In contrast, it took four months between the time when access restrictions were lifted in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region and funds were committed to the relief appeal. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) steadily climbed to 1.6 million and mortality rates rose above emergency levels.
In the case of the locust swarms that infested the African Sahel region, early funding would have mitigated the effects at less cost. A $9 million appeal by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in February 2004 to spray locust larvae and prevent their spread received an inadequate response. That summer, the locusts multiplied throughout eight countries and FAO revised the appeal to $100 million.
“Your action today ensures that in the critical realm of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations will do more, and do it sooner,” Mr. Annan told the Assembly session “For far too long humanitarian assistance for disaster victims has remained a reactive process. Relief funds have been sought only after disaster has struck.”
In a later press encounter he used New York Fire Department as an analogy. “If the Fire Department did not have its trucks and its fire houses, and the Mayor were to tell them, we will give you these resources and equipment when the fire strikes, you can imagine what would happen,” he said.
“This is the way we operate on a humanitarian basis, and I hope with this new arrangement we will be able to move faster and save lives, rather than start putting the fire engines and the fire houses together when the disaster has struck.”
Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden said he was gratified that a particularly difficult year in terms of humanitarian crises was ending on a more positive note by setting up CERF, which will be launched in mid-January 2006 and should be fully operational by March.
“By establishing the Central Emergency Response Fund we have taken a critical decision to ensure that the international response to today’s humanitarian crises is more effective and equitable,” he added. “Moreover, we have demonstrated that the Member States of the United Nations are willing to meet the demands of the 21st century in this important area in a flexible and responsible way.”
Access to predictable funding for humanitarian emergencies is a key aspect of Mr. Annan’s reform package outlined earlier this year in his report ‘In Larger Freedom.’ At the UN World Summit in September, donors already pledged some $175 million in potential pledges.
The upgraded CERF consists of $450 million in grants and $50 million in loans to UN agencies to be replenished at regular intervals.
The resolution urged all Member States and the private sector and all concerned individuals and institutions to make voluntary contributions. Mr. Annan noted that most of the money pledged so far had come from European States and other governments with capacity would be targeted.
“There is a large donor community out there. And we are also trying to bring in new donors from the Gulf and other oil producing countries,” he told reporters.
In his address to the Assembly he pledged to work with Member States and other stakeholders to work out detailed administrative and management arrangements for the standing fund. “We promise to manage it with utmost transparency. We will be accountable, and we shall provide full public disclosure of all donations and expenditures,” he said.