UN emergency relief fund largely successful, Ban reports

10 October 2008

The United Nations $500 million emergency fund set up to speed relief for natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay has largely achieved its objectives, but Member States must ensure it receives adequate financing, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report released today.

The Fund “has become, in a short time frame, a valuable and impartial tool for humanitarian action by helping to accelerate response and increase coverage of needs,”

Mr. Ban writes in the report to the General Assembly, citing the findings of an independent review of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

“Several challenges, however, exist in order to ensure that the Fund continues to meet its objectives,” Mr. Ban says, again quoting from the review and pledging to take up “expeditiously” the areas of improvement pinpointed by the evaluation.

These include increasing the size of CERF progressively in line with demands and in parallel to improvements in the implementation capacity UN agencies; securing greater consistency in the quality of CERF-funded programmes by further refining criteria for project approval; and reinforcing the current 12-member CERF secretariat and the UN coordinating field teams to ensure timely funding review and faster disbursement.

When the CERF was launched in March 2006 with an annual goal of $500 million, UN officials noted that under the previously existing system with a $50 million reserve, four months elapsed between the lifting of access curbs in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region and the commitment of relief funds. In that time, 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.

It was with those figures in the cross-hairs that the Assembly set up the CERF, as part of overall UN reforms, to ensure that adequate resources are available within days but also to fund ongoing crises that have not been sufficiently financed. In contrast to the Sahel crisis, Mr. Ban notes that CERF approved $2.4 million in 2007 for FAO to control a fast spreading outbreak of desert locusts in Yemen within one working day.

“A time-critical response was needed to prevent damage to livelihoods and to prevent the outbreak from spreading into neighbouring countries, which would have impacted severely on the already difficult food security situation and potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars in aid,” he writes in the report, covering the 18 months from 1 January 2007 to 30 June 2008.

“With funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund, FAO was able to control the spread of locusts from its starting point, which was the first time in its history that it had stopped an outbreak before it started to spread. Previously, funding had never arrived in time.”

He stresses that for the CERF to remain an effective tool “during a period of increased climate-related natural disasters, and continuing complex emergencies,” it must be adequately supported so that it can reach the annual target of $500 million on a consistent basis.

“All Member States are encouraged to contribute to the Fund to ensure the Assembly’s ‘global engagement’ and as a gesture of solidarity with those affected by disasters around the world,” he says.

During the reporting period the CERF approved $600 million in projects to 13 UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies. Of that, $375.1 million was committed to rapid response emergencies and $224.9 million to under-funded crises.

For natural disasters, some $183.6 million were provided from the rapid response window to jump-start relief for over 50 crises in 36 countries, with 80 per cent split evenly between Asia and Africa.

The rapid response window has also been used to fund essential needs stemming from the unprecedented rise in food prices. A reserve of $100 million was set aside in May 2008 for related humanitarian projects to cover not just food and agriculture but also health, water and sanitation, nutrition and logistics to ensure a multi-sectoral approach.

Of allocations from the under-funded window, 28 countries benefited, with about 85 per cent provided to sub-Saharan Africa, to support existing efforts, including several refugee programmes.

With regard to speed, Mr. Ban notes that after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008, an initial tranche of funding was approved within one day of receipt of the grant request, enabling agencies to provide assistance quickly to up to 120,000 victims. The average rapid response grants are now down to less than three days.

On under-funded crises, $6.8 million was granted for the Central African Republic, enabling UN agencies and partners to assist over 1.2 million people with life-saving support. Overall on such crises, the independent review recommends improving communications on and transparency of the decision-making process and data used.


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