5 December 2008


5 December 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Nearly $380 million in pledges to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had been received from more than 100 contributors at yesterday’s high-level event, the Organization’s top humanitarian official told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

The humanitarian fund was created by the General Assembly in 2006 to provide fast, reliable and impartial assistance to people affected by sudden-onset disasters and conflict.  CERF has disbursed more than $1 billion to help millions of victims in 65 countries so far.

Describing yesterday’s event, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he was delighted with its success, as well as “the overall tenor of the day”.  The meeting had been held “in a very positive spirit, with an extremely good attendance”.  The Secretary-General and the Vice-President of the Assembly had been there for the opening session, and ministers from Kenya and India had attended, as well as many high-level officials from various countries.  Many appreciative comments had been made regarding CERF and the efforts it was making.

Mr. Holmes said that eight new countries -– Afghanistan, Benin, Kenya, Myanmar, Oman, Samoa, Saint Lucia and Timor-Leste -– had become donors to the Fund.  Four of those new donors –- Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar and Timor-Leste –- had also been recipients of CERF funding.  That increased to 17 the number of countries that both contributed to and received money from the Fund.  That was a good illustration of how CERF, often described as a fund “by all for all”, worked.

He added that, at last year’s exchange rate, the amount pledged in national currencies would have amounted to $435 million, compared with an actual sum of $420 million received last year.  In fact, a significant number of Member States had increased contributions in their local currencies.  One could not say, of course, what the actual dollar rate would be at the time actual contributions were made and then turned into dollars, but the overall trend had been positive during the pledging event.  Among the major donors who had significantly increased their contributions, he mentioned Spain, Republic of Korea, Finland, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Brazil and Belgium.

The changing rates could have, not only drawbacks, but benefits, as well, he continued.  For example, the original amount allocated for a recent project in Lesotho had reached several thousand more people than originally envisaged, having grown by about 30 per cent as a result of exchange rate changes favouring the dollar.

“The numbers pledged yesterday are not, of course, the end of the story,” he said.  Pledges continued to come, and he expected the number of contributions to rise during the course of next year.  At the same time, he feared that humanitarian needs were likely to rise, as well, due to climate change, continued conflicts and the global food crisis.

Of course, yesterday’s event had not taken place against the most promising global economic and financial background, but, nevertheless, the degree of support for CERF was very notable.  “We have to expect that the global economic and financial crisis itself is going to lead to some rise in the humanitarian caseload as the effects feed through into developing countries, particularly the poorest ones, reducing remittances, exports, investment and budget possibilities to provide safety nets,” he said.  The United Nations would try to use CERF as best it could to address those rising needs.  In 2008, for example, “we adapted by allocating $100 million from CERF to deal with immediate consequences of the food crisis”.

Asked about contributions from the United States, he said that, in general, that country was a very significant humanitarian donor -– a very large contributor, for example, for Darfur. The United States had made two contributions late in 2008, one of $2 million and the second one of $3 million.  “Obviously, we will try to persuade the new Administration that they should become a significant contributor to CERF,” he added. 

To a question about the disclosure of currency exchange losses by the Fund, he said that, where those had a significant effect, such as in Myanmar, “I think we are perfectly transparent about that and are ready to be”.  The situation in Myanmar had been subsequently resolved, as had a similar situation in Zimbabwe.  There was no reason to hide such situations, because his Office was trying to solve them, and being up front about them might be a part of the solution.

Responding to several questions about a possible role of the sanctions against Zimbabwe in the current cholera epidemic in the country, he said he did not think the sanctions, which were imposed against particular individuals and entities, could be considered to be a major contributing factor.  The epidemic was caused by such basic factors as the collapse of the health system, lack of clean water and lack of health precautions.  The reasons for the collapse of the health system and infrastructure related to governance and hyperinflation, which were far more relevant than the sanctions.  The United Nations system was trying to help the Government of Zimbabwe to deal with the epidemic by contributing health supplies and people, “helping in any way we can”.

Asked about the target of contributions for 2009, he replied that it was essentially the same as this year -- $450 million.  “Obviously, we would like to raise slightly more, because we feel the needs are rising, but that will be our ideal target”.  Whether the target would be reached, due to exchange rate reasons, was a different question, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.