Press Releases

    IHA/1166
    10 March 2006

    At Meeting to Launch Central Emergency Response Fund, Secretary-General Calls Unnecessary, Avoidable Suffering Inexcusable

    Fund to Enable Immediate Deployment of Assistance Halfway to Goal, with Pledging Totalling over $256 Million

    NEW YORK, 9 March (UN Headquarters) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a high-level gathering at Headquarters today that the upgraded Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, was not just a fund, but a statement of conscience -- a statement that, in a world of plenty, unnecessary and avoidable suffering was inexcusable, a statement that suffering anywhere was a threat to humanity everywhere.

    "Today, as we gather to act on our conscience, our commitments must reach deep into our wallets," the Secretary-General told the meeting.  Funds were scarce, and contributions to CERF competed with the fight against poverty at home, he knew, but few decisions of the World Summit had as immediate a potential for saving lives as an operationalized CERF.  Urging generous support, he promised the Fund would prove to be one of the very best of investments.

    At the start of the meeting, $216 million had been pledged towards the Fund's start-up goal of $500 million.  By the close of the meeting, the Fund was halfway towards meeting its goal, with pledges totalling more than $256 million.

    Explaining that CERF's targeted $500 million in stand-by resources would allow relief agencies to jump-start life-saving assistance, Mr. Annan said that instead of waiting for money to trickle in, the Fund would enable the United Nations to deploy staff, goods and services immediately, when most lives were at stake.  Equally important, CERF would be fair.  Through it, both headline disasters and forgotten crises would receive emergency aid to address basic humanitarian needs, providing assistance anywhere and saving lives everywhere.

    The Fund, a key reform proposal of the Secretary-General, had been endorsed by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, and enacted by the General Assembly with the adoption of a landmark resolution on 15 December 2005.  For a world still reeling from a series of natural and manmade disasters that included the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, hurricanes in the Americas and droughts in the Horn of Africa, the new Fund promised to make money available more quickly and spread it more evenly.

    The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, said that today was a dream come true for humanitarian workers.  Now, through the great support of donors around the globe, relief would not only be quicker, more reliable and more effective when disasters struck, but also more predictable for the forgotten and neglected victims of disaster and conflict.  Today, more than 25 donors -- and he hoped more would come in the course of the day -- were not only being generous, but strategic and visionary, in helping to establish a historic milestone on the road to effective and predictable humanitarian work.

    Agreeing that the world community needed to respond immediately and more flexibly than ever before, General Assembly President, Jan Eliasson (Sweden), said that last year had demonstrated -- in lives lost and livelihoods destroyed -- just how destructive, indiscriminate and widespread humanitarian disasters could be.  Victims often needed help in the first days, and it was simply not good enough that they had to wait while the United Nations sought donations.  Neither was it acceptable that the scale of disaster response was determined, not by need, but by the media coverage they generated.  The launch of the Fund was a great step.

    On behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Grenada's Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, stressed that the survival of the Caribbean economies was greatly affected by the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters.  Several decades of progress could be wiped out in a matter of hours, as had been evident when Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004, resulting in catastrophic damage to the island.  CARICOM had been disappointed by the poor response to United Nations appeals for assistance in the wake of the staggering consequences of recent natural disasters in its region.  Thus, it welcomed efforts to ensure the more predictable and timely response associated with the grant element in CERF.

    The Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg, Jean-Louis Schlitz, said he had not come to New York to celebrate CERF's launch, because, as long as 850 million people in the world suffered from hunger, there was no time for celebration or back-patting.  Today's launch was a major achievement, but much still remained to be done.  Those who were suffering could not be kept waiting, while the world went through the necessary talking, procedures and administrative failures.  CERF would not enable the world to avoid humanitarian emergencies in the future, but at least it would make it easier to cope with their consequences.  Its success, however, depended on how quickly it could be put into practice, he said.

    Before today's official launch, Sweden led all those who had already contributed to the Fund, with $41 million, followed by Norway at $30 million, Luxembourg ($4 million) and Switzerland ($1.5 million).

    Also before today's meeting, topping the list of all those pledging to contribute, was the United Kingdom with $70 million, followed by the Netherlands and Ireland at $11.9 million each, Spain ($10 million), Denmark ($8 million), Australia ($7 million), Republic of Korea ($5 million), Finland (4.9 million), Switzerland ($2.5 million) and India ($2 million).

    During the launch, Canada and the United States announced pledges of $17.2 million and $10 million respectively, while the Netherlands announced, after the meeting, that it was doubling its pledge.

    Japan's representative announced a pledge of $850,000 from Hyogo Prefecture, the seat of which is Kobe, site of the January 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction.

    Representatives of the following countries also took the floor to announce their contributions and pledges: Mexico, Iceland, Estonia, South Africa, China, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kuwait, France, Egypt, Belgium, Iceland, Armenia, Greece, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Qatar, Thailand, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.

    The meeting also heard from representatives of Oxfam America and the Disaster Resource Network.

    Funds Contributed and Pledged Prior to Today's Launch

    Name

    Pledges
    (US dollars)

    Contribution
    (US dollars)

    Governments

    United Kingdom

    70,000,000

     

    Sweden

     

    41,093,249

    Norway

     

    30,000,000

    Netherlands

    11,903,360

     

    Ireland

    11,903,360

     

    Denmark

    8,100,000

     

    Luxembourg

     

    4,000,000

    Switzerland

    2,475,158

    1,542,842

    Finland

    4,900,000

     

    France

    1,190,336

     

    Greece

    100,000

     

    Estonia

     

    24,000

    Croatia

    5,000

     

    Sri Lanka

    10,000

     

    Liechtenstein

     

    100,000

    Grenada

     

    10,000

    Armenia

    5,000

     

    Mexico

    50,000

     

    Pakistan

    20,000

     

    Egypt

    15,000

     

    Republic of Korea

    5,000,000

     

    Iceland

    150,000

     

    India

    2,000,000

     

    Nigeria

    100,000

     

    Qatar

    5,000

     

    Kuwait

    200,000

     

    South Africa

    300,000

     

    Spain

    10,000,000

     

    Australia

    7,328,894

     

    China

    1,000,000

     

    Belgium

    1,190,336

     

    Corporations/Individuals/Others

    Disaster Resource Network (DRN)

     

    10,000

    Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

    850,211

     

    Total

    138,801,655

    76,780,091

    Total Pledged

        215,581,746

    Background

    The United Nations Secretary-General is launching the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) at a high-level meeting today, which is providing an opportunity for Member States to announce support and financial pledges for the new Fund.  Further information on the Fund is available at http://cerf.un.org .

    Introductory Remarks

    JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that today was a dream come true for humanitarian workers.  A big step was being taken in the right direction, as now, through the great support of donors in the North, South, East and West, relief would be not only quicker, more reliable and more effective when disasters struck, but also more predictable for the forgotten and neglected victims of disaster and conflict.  Today, more than 25 donors -- and more would come in the course of the day, he hoped -- were not only being generous, but strategic and visionary in helping to establish a historic milestone on the road to effective and predictable humanitarian work.

    He drew attention to the screens in the room, which projected the new website, launched today, where users would be updated continuously on how the Fund was progressing and being made more effective.

    Statement by Secretary-General

    Officially launching the Fund, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said that, for far too long, humanitarian assistance for disaster victims had remained a reactive process.  Relief funds had been sought only after disaster had struck.  That had meant that, despite the best of intentions, lives, which could have been saved, had been lost.  Today marked a change.  A fund was being launched which was proactive rather than reactive.  CERF would provide a ready tool of resources that better empowered the United Nations in funding immediate relief efforts in the aftermath of disasters.  It would ensure that, in the critical realm of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations would do more, and do it sooner.

    He said that CERF's targeted $500 million in stand-by resources would allow relief agencies to jump-start life-saving assistance.  Instead of waiting for money to trickle in, the Fund would enable the Organization to deploy staff, goods and services immediately, when most lives were at stake.  Equally important, CERF would be fair.  Through it, both headline disasters and forgotten crises would receive emergency aid to address basic humanitarian needs.  It would provide assistance anywhere and save lives everywhere.

    CERF, of course, first and foremost, was a tool for emergency humanitarian work, but it carried significant implications for the fight against poverty and for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  Poor communities and fragile economies were ill equipped to absorb the shocks of natural disasters and violent conflicts.  By providing timely aid, CERF could enable relief before crises spiralled out of control, allowing faster transition to recovery and rebuilding.  CERF could help save not just lives, but livelihoods.  It could keep children immunized, families and livestock fed, and waterborne diseases at bay.

    He said that approach could be particularly effective in stances of slow onset natural disasters, like the drought affecting millions in the Horn of Africa, where timely assistance could halt, if not reverse, downward trends in standards of living.  Because of that, CERF could help maintain momentum in achieving the Development Goals, especially in those regions where progress was most needed.  CERF would save lives, and it would be fair.  It also had the Secretary-General's commitment that it would be transparent.  Through full disclosure and up-to-date tracking, the Fund would set new standards for accountability, not simply to Member States, but to the public as well.  A dedicated CERF website would report all expenditures and programme results to the General Assembly, donors and the public.  Everyone would see where their donations were being used and how those were impacting lives.

    Of course, for the international community, CERF was not simply a fund; it was a statement of principle, he said.  It was a statement that, in a world of plenty, unnecessary and avoidable suffering was inexcusable.  It was a statement that, though disaster victims might be unseen, they were never forgotten.  It was a statement that suffering anywhere was a threat to humanity everywhere.  It was, quite simply, a statement of conscience.

    The Secretary-General said "Today, as we gather to act on our conscience, our commitments must reach deep into our wallets."  The financial generosity of the world's wealthiest countries was critical.  Developing countries had also pledged precious resources.  Funds were scarce and the contributions to CERF competed with the fight against poverty at home.  But statements of solidarity were important, and the contributions were especially welcome.

    The World Summit had resulted in many important, even historic, decisions, he said.  But, few of those decisions had evidenced as clear-cut a consensus, and as immediate a potential for saving lives, as an operationalized CERF.  That was, in part, why the Fund was the first World Summit decision to be implemented by the General Assembly.  That was also why we were all gathered here today.  He urged generous support for the Fund, which would prove to be one of the very best investments that could be made.

    Statement by General Assembly President

    JAN ELIASSON ( Sweden), President of the General Assembly, said last year had demonstrated -- in lives lost and livelihoods destroyed -- just how destructive, indiscriminate and widespread humanitarian disasters could be.  The need for the international community to respond immediately and flexibly had become more evident than ever before.

    The international community had started reforming its approach to humanitarian emergencies with the General Assembly's adoption of resolution 46/182 in 1991, he recalled.  That resolution had established the guiding principle underpinning international humanitarian assistance.  On 15 December the General Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution to establish CERF.  By that action, a major step had been taken to reinforce and modernize the basic framework laid down in resolution 46/182.

    Victims of humanitarian emergencies often needed help in the first days, and it was simply not good enough that they had to wait, while the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the United Nations sought donations.  Neither was it acceptable that the scale of response to disasters was determined not by need, but by the media coverage they generated.  Too many people had died and suffered because "their" emergency had not been on the television screen.

    The launch of the Fund today was, therefore, a great step, he said.  Through it, the international community could more quickly, reliably and effectively meet the needs of all those who suffered, no matter where they were and no matter what the scale of the crisis.  Its success would depend on the level of funding it obtained.  To date, the Fund had received pledges from 31 countries, including those affected by or prone to emergencies, as well as traditional and non-traditional donors from all five regional groups.  Such broad engagement and ownership demonstrated the truly global nature and impact of humanitarian crises, and reinforced the need to act with common resolve.

    Statements

    KEITH MITCHELL, Prime Minister of Grenada, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the steps being taken today were of extreme importance to the countries of that region.  Many leaders, at the 2005 World Summit and at previous sessions, had called for more attention to be paid to the funding of humanitarian emergencies.  They were, therefore, pleased that the General Assembly had adopted a resolution to upgrade the Revolving Fund by consensus.

    The Caribbean was among the regions that were most vulnerable to natural disasters, he said, adding that the survival of the Caribbean economies was greatly affected by their frequency and magnitude.  Several decades of progress could be wiped out in a matter of hours, as had been evident when Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004, resulting in catastrophic damage to the island.  Apart from the loss of lives, the productive base of the economy had been destroyed, along with 90 per cent of the nation's housing stock, forested areas, watershed and mangroves.  The consequences for Grenada continued to be quite staggering.  Grenada had also been visited by Hurricane Emily in July 2005, which had reversed some of the strides made since Ivan.

    Although Grenada had been hardest hit, he said, Hurricane Ivan had also affected parts of Jamaica, Haiti and a number of other islands, while Guyana had been visited by severe floods in late December 2004.  According to estimates provided by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the damage in Guyana alone had amounted to approximately 60 per cent of the gross domestic product.  The areas affected had housed 62 per cent of the population.

    It was in that context that CARICOM was disappointed by the poor response to the appeals for assistance launched by the United Nations in the wake of those disasters, he said.  In both cases, only a small percentage of the pledges had been fulfilled.  The need for humanitarian assistance was a perennial problem for developing countries.  Like other small island developing States, Caribbean countries rarely received the attention of the international media and, in that regard, CARICOM welcomed the efforts to ensure a more predictable and timely response, particularly the innovative approach associated with the grant element in the modernization of CERF.

    Reiterating CARICOM's full support for General Assembly resolution 46/182, which provided for a more effective humanitarian system, he said greater efforts should be placed on capacity-building associated with strengthening regional institutions, and arrangements to address disaster management in small island developing States.  CARICOM was pleased to pledge contributions on behalf of its members, and urged those who had not yet contributed to do so as a matter of urgency.  That was an important role for all Member States, since as they all had to face humanitarian emergencies on a daily basis.

    ANAND SHARMA, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, said that the magnitude and scale of some of the recent natural disasters, their catastrophic impact, and the resulting unprecedented tragedy and trauma had highlighted, like never before, the need for an effective and prompt international assistance mechanism to support the relief efforts of an affected country.  Leaders had recognized that need at the 2005 World Summit.  It was satisfying, therefore, that the United Nations had moved quickly to put in place an emergency response fund, in view of the major challenges that lay ahead.  Its success, however, would be determined by how far it met expectations, not of those assembled in New York, but of the thousands who, annually, fell victims to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies.  CERF held out the hope of ready availability of resources for rapid initial response in times of need.  The adequacy of that response depended on the early building up of the corpus of the Fund, and its regular replenishment.

    He said he also expected the Fund to address the tragedy of so called "neglected emergencies".  For too long, emergency aid commitment had been subjected to the "CNN-effect".  Dire emergencies, especially in parts of Africa, slipped off the radar screen of the donor community, either for geopolitical reasons, or because they were no longer media-worthy.  The Fund should be operated in a transparent and accountable manner.  Its long-term viability depended on two aspects of its functioning.  The foremost was the improvement of the response of United Nations agencies to sudden onset disasters, by cutting down the time required for raising resources and thereby saving lives in the immediate aftermath.  The second was the fairness and transparency in allocation of resources from CERF.  Regular and stringent audits should be a prerequisite in establishing confidence in CERF as an effective, transparent and accountable instrument, worth of receiving resources.  An annual review by the General Assembly would ensure that the Fund met the high expectations of Member States.

    Much as he supported the setting up of CERF, the longer-term solution lay in the capacity of countries to mitigate the effects and manage their own responses to natural disasters, he said.  Development could not be sustainable, unless disaster mitigation was built into the development process, at all levels.  The international community also should maintain its focus beyond emergency relief, and support the medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk-reduction efforts of the Governments of affected countries.  India had recently strengthened its disaster management capacity, and it would be happy to share its expertise with other members of the international community.  Its focus on the development of a disaster response capacity had also enabled it to cope with recent disasters, by relying on its own resources and to extend assistance to other affected countries, including in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami.  By supporting local and national recovery processes at an early stage, it was possible to close the gap between relief and development, and to transform disasters into opportunities for sustained development, he said.

    HILLARY BENN, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom said today was a day to acknowledge and acclaim the work of humanitarian actors around the globe, who, "without fuss", extended the hand of compassion to help fellow human beings in need -- the 250 million people last year affected by humanitarian disasters and the 45 million affected by wars.  Today, the world showed it had the capacity and the will to fashion, for itself, the means to give that help, by setting up an emergency relief fund.  He thanked all those who had made that possible, including Mr. Egeland, who had turned an idea about helping people into a reality, as well as the 31 countries that had, so far, dug deep into their pockets to provide the money needed for the Fund to do its job.  He said his country would contribute about $70 million initially, and up to $100 million in total, as others contributed more.  The Fund was needed, because it was simply not good enough that, when crises struck, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations had to "pass around the begging bowl".  It was simply not good enough that, all too often, it took a camera crew to prick the conscience of the world before anything got done, and not good enough that some crises got much more funding than others.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, received $10 per head last year, while, in Darfur, that figure was $100 per head.  For the tsunami, the victims received $1,000 per head.  Contributions were often irrational and unfair.

    How all of that unfair and uneven funding had been allowed to go on for so long "beats me", he said.  The launch of the Fund today showed that the world intended to do better, as that would make money available more quickly and spread more evenly.  He had high expectations of the Fund, which would be judged on how well it operated.  It was vital that CERF money not get held up, and he was confident that Mr. Egeland would ensure that the money "got out the door" as quickly as possible to provide the much needed help.  

    Noting the concern expressed by some, that the new Fund would draw money away from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, he said he recognized the latter's hugely important role in the humanitarian system, and his country would continue to provide those with substantial and growing funding.  Spending money wisely and quickly required humanitarian coordinators, and more qualified people were needed, in that regard.  The system of coordination should be reformed, and there should be absolute clarity about who was doing what.  He, therefore, welcomed the inter-agency standing committee's attempt to provide more predictable support.  More ways should be found to measure how well the world responded to emergencies.  There should be an annual world humanitarian report, and an independent person or group should review how well CERF was doing in "extending that hand of compassion".  The Fund was created to save lives and relieve suffering.  A crisis was presently under way in Africa, as millions were starving in the Horn of Africa, due to the worst drought in years.  "Let us use the Fund now, to help save lives there," he stated.

    JEAN-LOUIS SCHLITZ, Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg, said he had not come to New York to celebrate CERF's launch, because as long as 850 million people in the world suffered from hunger, there was no time for celebration or back-patting.  It was necessary to continue efforts.  Today's launch was a major achievement, but much still remained to be done.  Those who were suffering could not be kept waiting, while the world went through the necessary talking, procedures and administrative failures.  CERF was an additional tool in the hands of those dealing with humanitarian crises.  Their task now was to perfect that tool.

    The Fund's success also depended on how quickly it could be put into practice, he said.  Money was vital, and it was necessary to continue efforts to make CERF a bigger tool in the coming weeks, as other countries joined up.  Already, what had been seen today showed that there were new donors.  The European Union had decided last year to devote more money to humanitarian efforts.  While CERF would not enable the world to avoid humanitarian emergencies in the future, it would make it easier to cope with their consequences.

    ANNIKA SÖDER, State Secretary for International Development Cooperation of Sweden, said her country's contribution was already in the bank.  The provision of timely responses to humanitarian emergencies, as well as the support for development, including the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, required full support.  Those challenges were interlinked, and the United Nations reform process was important, in that regard.  Regarding international cooperation, it would be necessary to coordinate responses to humanitarian crises.  Saving lives must never be a matter of "flag putting".

    MORTEN WETLAND, State Secretary of Norway said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now had a new instrument and a new response, which should be both democratic and accountable.  The donors' money would not fly with any flags, but its speed was essential, since most lives were lost in the first hours following a disaster.  Countries that were sceptical at first were pleased that the Fund was becoming operational so quickly.  CERF should have been in place long ago, and he wished it every future success.

    ROBERT GREENHILL, President, International Development Agency of Canada said that the Fund's creation was among the early tangible outcomes of a strengthened international humanitarian system.  His Government was committed to enhancing global efforts to respond to the needs of individuals affected by conflict and natural disasters.  It would make a $20 million contribution to CERF for the first year of its operation, in addition to Canada's current spending for international assistance.  Canada was committed to a more timely and flexible approach to funding.  If the Fund was to produce the anticipated results, it was essential that it be provided it with the powerful mechanisms needed to direct its allocations, namely an able system of humanitarian coordinators.  If the Fund constantly improved, and if its objectives were satisfied, Canada was prepared to make an important commitment covering many years.

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