The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) raised a record $424 million at its annual pledging session today as top officials warned of rising needs in 2010 for one of the world’s leading tools in disaster response, whether for sudden-onset crises such as earthquakes or ongoing but neglected emergencies.
“That’s more than we’ve raised at any similar pledging meeting before, so that’s extremely encouraging particularly when you consider we’re doing that against the background of a major economic and financial crisis which has affected the budgets of many donor countries in a very significant way,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters.
“I’m confident that we’ll be able to raise the rest of the funds we need to reach the $450 million target in 2010,” he added, noting that the amount raised in 2009 was some $400 million, five new countries pledged funds today – bringing the total of donors to 115 – and some countries increased their funding while none reduced it.
“That’s extremely good news. It’s a practical illustration of the fact that CERF is a fund from all countries for all countries depending on need.”
Set up in 2006 to jump-start relief operations 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, CERF has an annual target of $450 million with an additional $50-million loan facility to allow rapid access to funds ahead of the transfer of donor pledges. Two thirds of the fund are allotted for sudden-onset emergencies and a third for neglected crises.
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 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. Now requests can be approved by the CERF Secretariat as quickly as within 24 hours or less of reception.
“We fear that 2010 may be a year of significant and rising humanitarian needs so we’re going to need those resources to make sure that CERF can be the rapid and predictable starter of response to sudden-onset situations as well as continuing to play its role of equalizing funding for different crises and different sectors where they’re not being funded equally by the donors otherwise,” Mr. Holmes said.
He noted that the United States was “back on the scene” with a pledge of $10 million and Russia made its first pledge – $2 million – adding that it was particularly pleasing to see a large and increasing number of recipients contributing even if only modestly.
“That’s a symbol of their political support and the message they want to send about the importance of the CERF for international solidarity,” he declared, terming the session “extremely successful… extremely encouraging.”
In an opening speech to the gathering, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited CERF successes this year, including the speedy relocation of 13,000 Somali refugees in Kenya, thus averting the risk of epidemics when rains threatened to worsen conditions in their camp, and its contributions to emergency health care, nutrition and food in Djibouti, a “forgotten crisis” where humanitarian needs were not being met.
But he warned of “significant humanitarian needs in 2010 and beyond” with climate change playing an increasingly prominent role, noting that global warming already affects millions of people through more frequent, intense and non-seasonal floods, storms and droughts, while those who suffer most are the poorest and most vulnerable in risk-prone countries.
“We do not know exactly how, in the coming year, the effects of climate change will mix with the demographic shifts and the global economic slowdown to create emergency needs,” he concluded.
“Nor do we know precisely where conflict may erupt or where storms may hit, threatening to undo decades of development. But we do know that when we face such challenges, CERF will be an important part of the response.”