UN launches landmark disaster relief fund to speed up emergency assistance

9 March 2006
Secretary-General Kofi Annan

The United Nations today formally launched a landmark $500-million fund – with over half that amount already pledged – 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, 36 donors have pledged $256 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.

“We meet to launch a fund that is proactive rather than reactive. The CERF will provide a ready pool of resources that better empower the United Nations in funding immediate relief efforts in the aftermath of disasters,” Mr. Annan said at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Of course, for the international community, the CERF is not simply a fund; it is a statement of principle. It is a statement that in a world of plenty, unnecessary and avoidable suffering is inexcusable,” he said. “It is a statement that suffering anywhere is a threat to humanity everywhere.”

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, who will manage the Fund, also spoke at the formal launch and underlined that Member States and the general public will be able to keep track of how and where the money is being spent by means of a dedicated CERF website.

“The webpage, which was started today, and where you will be updated continuously on how we make progress in making the Central Emergency Response Fund effective,” Mr. Egeland told ambassadors of Member States and other officials, adding that plans are already underway to make the first disbursements from the Fund.

“I can assure you that as we speak we are working on the two first allocations from the CERF…One is to the Horn of Africa and Kenya drought, the other one is to Côte d’Ivoire where humanitarian work and the civilian population is suffering so much,” he said.

The President of the General Assembly, which approved the Fund in December as another milestone in the UN reform process, described the launch of the CERF as “the most important qualitative step forward we have taken since 1991.

“Victims of humanitarian emergencies often desperately need our help within the first few days of the emergency as you all know. It simply was not good enough that – until now – they had to wait while the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the UN system asked for donations,” Jan Eliasson said.

Also at the launch, speakers from over 60 Member States, many of them representing states or regions that are frequently hit by natural disasters, warmly welcomed the setting up of the CERF, emphasizing how important it was to get rapid assistance to emergency situations and the critical need for funds.

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

“Too often, aid resembles a lottery in which a few win but most lose based on considerations other than need. We must move from lottery to predictability so all those who suffer receive aid,” said Mr. Egeland.

OCHA said that up to two thirds of the CERF can be allocated to rapid response with the other one third devoted to addressing under-funded emergencies. In his role as manager of the Fund, on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Egeland will be guided by an Advisory Group of 12 independent experts.


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