Top UN official upbeat as many Member States commit to emergency relief fund

John Holmes

5 December 2008 – The United Nations humanitarian chief announced today that around $380 million was pledged to its emergency relief fund that can be quickly accessed by the world body, potentially saving thousands of lives when responding to disasters.

The Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) was set up in 2006 to speed relief for natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay. Since its creation, the voluntarily-funded CERF has given nearly $700 million to help those affected by disasters.

“Given the volatility in economies around the world, it would have been natural to expect that pledges made for the coming year would decrease. But the pledges we heard are a ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy global economic climate,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.

“The pledges are an important signal to the millions of people caught in humanitarian crises around the world that they will not be abandoned, that international support for humanitarian efforts is as strong as ever,” he added.

Seven new countries were registered as donors for the CERF at the high-level event yesterday, bringing a total of 101 contributing nations to the Fund, representing well over half of all UN Member States.

Of the 101 States contributing to the Fund, 17 of them are also recipients of financing from the CERF, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, told reporters in New York.

Although the dollar amount committed to the Fund has dropped from last year’s $420 million donation, given current exchange rates the value of the money contributed to the CERF has risen.

“For the equivalent of that, last year would have meant pledges of $435 million,” said Mr. Holmes, adding that “a significant number of Member States increased significantly their contributions in their local currencies.”

Among the nine States that increased their commitments to the Fund was Spain, which added €10 million to its 2009 pledge of €20 million (more than $25 million), as well as adding €10 million to its commitment for this year.

Australia, Finland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, the Republic of Korea and Sweden also increased the size of their pledges to the Fund compared to the previous year.

Mr. Holmes noted that yesterday’s meeting also resulted in pledges from seven first-time donors, Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar, Oman, Samoa, Saint Lucia and Timor-Leste. Four of the new donors to the fund – Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar, and Timor-Leste – have also been recipients of CERF funding. The two private sector donors are PricewaterhouseCoopers and Western Union, who had both also contributed in 2008.

“The numbers pledged yesterday are not the end of the story. Pledges continue to come in. Not all countries were ready to make pledges yesterday. Not all countries did make pledges yesterday, so the contributions will rise in 2009 as the year goes on,” said Mr. Holmes.

He warned that humanitarian needs are likely to rise in 2009 due to climate change driving natural disasters, the global food crisis, continuing and worsening conflicts, as well as the global and financial crisis.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said demand for resources to meet humanitarian needs continued to rise.

“Already, nearly 20 per cent of CERF funds are being used to help people suffering from extreme weather and other disasters caused by climate change. When food prices spiked earlier this year, I set aside $100 million from CERF to help more than 16 million people who could not afford enough to eat. Those funds have been used; in fact, we could have used three times that amount,” said Mr. Ban.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

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

Related Stories