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Pledges put UN response fund within “touching distance” of target

 The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 December 2007, following a trip to Ethiopia and Somalia. Julius Mwelu/IRIN

Some 70 donors, ranging from wealthy industrialised countries to poor states to corporations, today pledged US$420 million for 2008 to the UN emergency fund that seeks to save the lives of millions of people by providing immediate aid in the case of sudden or neglected crises, be they natural disasters or man-made conflicts.

"Their generosity is really overwhelming and it is very good news," UN Under-Secretary-General General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing at UN headquarters at the end of the pledging conference for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Launched in March 2006 as part of the ongoing process of UN humanitarian reform, the CERF has now received more than US$1 billion, both donated and pledged, for the three-year 2006-2008 period. Yesterday’s pledges brought the Fund to within what Holmes called “touching distance” of its US$450 million target for donations. A further $50 million revolving loan comprises the rest of the CERF’s annual $500 million goal.

“The CERF is crucial for our ability to assist quickly millions of vulnerable people around the globe, as it enables us to carry out immediate life-saving activities wherever and whenever required,” Holmes told the conference.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the CERF has helped to save millions of lives during its first two years by providing quick initial funding for lifesaving assistance and rapid response in sudden onset, rapidly deteriorating, and under-funded humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters - lives that could have been lost to inevitable delays under previous less-funded arrangements.

The UK led today’s top pledges with $81.6 million, followed by the Netherlands with $58.9 million (m), Sweden with $55.9 m, Norway with $55.4 m, Canada with $39.5 m and Ireland with $33.3 m.

It was not only the amount of money that was praised by Holmes, but the wide spectrum of donors, including poor countries who themselves are or have been beneficiaries of the Fund.

“More than half of those donors are developing countries, some of those countries are giving small amounts, modest amounts, some of them are also recipients of CERF funding, but I think it’s an expression of their commitment to the Fund and their gratitude in some cases for the support they have received from the Fund,” he told reporters.

“We try to say that the Fund is for all and from or by all, but I think we had a demonstration today of the reality of that and the fact that we are moving towards a large donor base, I think, wider than many funds in this kind of situation.”

He cited the example of Ghana’s $5,000 pledge. “They’ve been a major recipient of CERF funding for their floods there. I think it’s a physical expression of their gratitude and their commitment to the existence of the Fund,” Holmes said.

“So we take it as very important. I welcome those small contributions as much as I do the big contributions, although obviously the big contributions make a bigger difference financially.”

CERF Secretariat head Rudi Muller said he was struck by the increased commitment from a growing number of donors. “Their generosity shows the level of confidence they have in our work to rapidly and effectively assist people in need,” he told IRIN.

First major corporate donor

Yesterday also saw the first major corporate donor to the CERF with a $100,000 pledge from Western Union. “We’re also looking to increase our contributions from the private sector,” Holmes noted. “We’ll perhaps be launching in 2008 a particular targeted effort from the private sector, whether from high-worth individuals, or corporations or foundations.”

He stressed that in conflicts the biggest single reason for humanitarian aid is to assist people who have been displaced, as in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region where some 2.4 million people are now in camps and receiving aid, including money from the CERF.

DRC - the biggest recipient

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently the biggest single recipient of CERF aid, mostly to meet the humanitarian emergency of people displaced by fighting in the east of the vast country.

While acknowledging that there were improvements to be made, Holmes welcomed what he called the degree of support for “the way in which we’ve been able to manage the fund so far”. Some implementing partners have complained of delays in disbursing funds on the ground.

“I think we’ve been able to use CERF in a realistic and good way in terms of making rapid and predictable and justified responses to people in need on the ground whether they be from natural disasters or from conflict situations,” he said.

“I think we’ve been able to use CERF also to equalise funding for emergencies where it seems there are inequities in terms of some crises being well funded and others being relatively neglected and under-funded.”

Summing up the conference’s work, Holmes declared: “So I think it was a good morning for the humanitarian cause and a good morning for the CERF fund.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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