UN creates rapid-response fund for disasters

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

After every earthquake, flood, or other disaster, the call goes out for pledges to fund emergency relief. Then a second round of begging tries to convert those pledges into actual payments. In the meantime, some relief is delayed, and people die. Money that does eventually come may not be in proportion to the need. For example, relief funding for the 26 December 2004 tsunami generally came rapidly and exceeded the amount requested, but famine relief for 3.5 million Kenyans suffering drought is now 75% underfunded.

To help solve these problems, the United Nations this month created the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) as a rainy-day savings account, to be dipped into when urgent needs require that money be spent within days--not in several months after aid pledges start being fulfilled. The Fund is about half way to the goal of half a billion dollars in deposits, which could be spent for either natural or man-made disasters.

"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," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on March 9.

Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will manage the Fund. "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 Cote d'Ivoire where humanitarian work and the civilian population is suffering so much," he said. "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."

The biggest donations paid so far are $41 million from Sweden and $30 million from Norway. The largest pledges are $70 million from the United Kingdom and $24 million from the Netherlands.