Landmark UN disaster relief fund to be formally launched next week

2 March 2006

In one week’s time, the United Nations will formally launch a landmark $500-million fund to jump-start relief operations in future natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay under the current under-funded mechanism.

In one week’s time, the United Nations will formally launch a landmark $500-million fund to jump-start relief operations in future natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay under the current under-funded mechanism.

So far, 19 states have pledged $188 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a key reform sought by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to ensure swifter responses to humanitarian emergencies, with adequate funds made available within three to four days as opposed to up to four months or more under current arrangements.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is urging more governments, the private sector, and individuals to speedily donate the outstanding amount since CERF is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions. The existing mechanism, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, only has $50 million in resources.

“The goal of the Fund is simple: to provide aid workers with sufficient funding to jump-start lifesaving relief operations and to immediately deploy staff, goods and services, for people in need when most lives are on the line,” OCHA declared.

“Too often, aid resembles a lottery in which a few win but most lose based on considerations other than need,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said of the CERF, which was approved by the General Assembly in December as another milestone in the UN reform process. “We must move from lottery to predictability so all those who suffer receive aid.”

Underscoring the CERF’s importance, UN officials note that under the current system it took four months between the lifting of access restrictions in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region and the commitment of funds to the relief appeal. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) climbed to 1.6 million and mortality rates rose above emergency levels.

In the case of locust swarms infesting the African Sahel area in 2004, a $9-million appeal by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in February to spray larvae and prevent their spread was inadequately funded. That summer, the locusts multiplied throughout eight countries and FAO had to revise its appeal upwards to $100 million.

Up to two thirds of the CERF can be allocated to rapid response with the other one-third devoted to addressing under-funded emergencies. Mr. Egeland, who will manage the Fund on behalf of the Secretary-General, will be guided by an Advisory Group of 12 independent experts.

 

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