UN relief fund launches annual pledging session in face of growing needs

4 December 2008

The $500-million United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) today launched its annual pledging conference, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that the financial crisis, climate change and population growth are likely to increase demands for relief aid.

“We will need more resources to meet those demands,” he told delegates from Member States. “The needs are tremendous, but I believe that your generosity can match them.”

The CERF was set up in 2006 as part of UN reforms, to jump-start relief operations in natural and man-made disasters by providing funds within days and saving thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay under the then under-funded $50-million mechanism.

“Any aid worker can tell you that in a disaster, delays are deadly,” Mr. Ban said. “It is in the earliest hours of a crisis that the most lives are saved – or lost. Tragically, humanitarian funds were coming too late for some victims.”

UN officials have noted that under the previous 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.

“Now we have the CERF, which approves funds in as little as forty-eight hours – a fraction of the time it used to take,” Mr. Ban said. “There are millions of lives at stake. So I appeal to you, on behalf of these suffering people, to contribute as much as possible.”

Citing the Fund’s successes, he noted that in its first three years, it provided more than $1billion for food, shelter, clean water and health care for tens of millions of people from Afghanistan to Zambia. Overall, 67 countries have received CERF funds. Even more are contributing – 93 countries, nearly half of the UN's membership.

Many States now contributing to the CERF have also received its donations - Bangladesh, China, El Salvador, Indonesia, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Syria among them.

“This year's floods in Central America showed how natural disasters can destroy in seconds what took years to build. The strife in Kenya proved the same point. If we move quickly to reverse such damage, we have a much better shot at long-term development,” Mr. Ban said.

“The CERF is truly a Fund by all, a Fund for all. It shows the United Nations taking immediate action to alleviate acute human suffering.”

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