7 December 2018

Central Emergency Response Fund ‘Most Profitable Investment You Can Make for the Good of Humankind’, Secretary-General Tells Pledging Conference

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the annual high-level pledging conference for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, in New York today:

Effectively, there are things that I do not know much about.  There are things that I do not care so much for.  If there is something I care a lot for and I know something about, it is the CERF [Central Emergency Response Fund].

Allow me, before reading some of the notes I have, to tell you two very clear things.  There are many activities in the UN, many departments in the UN, and many agencies in the UN that work well.

There is a lot of criticism about multilateralism, but there is a lot of multilateral things that work well.  But if there is something that works very well in the UN system, it is the CERF.

The second thing I wanted to say is that, in my experience as High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], the CERF was the most precious instrument we had, both to help us respond quickly to new emergency situations and to help us address those forgotten crises for which it is very difficult to mobilize the attention of the international community.  Without the CERF, our action in UNHCR would have been much less effective than what it was.

There are many ways in which you can spend well your money with the UN.  The CERF is, in my opinion, probably the best.  And so, I strongly urge you to have the ambition to make the CERF a larger Fund, because that will dramatically improve our capacity to respond to the multiplication of emergency situations that we witness and to the protracted problems that are more and more difficult to address.

Let’s not forget that we see the combination of conflict, climate change, movement of people and many other dramas in today’s global society that make humanitarian action more needed than ever.  Be absolutely sure that what you will invest in CERF is probably the most profitable investment you can make for the good of humankind.

And now I will read a few notes, if you don’t mind.  The Central Emergency Response Fund has been at the forefront of the United Nations’ humanitarian response for the past 13 years.  During that time, CERF has provided over $5.5 billion in life-saving humanitarian assistance to over 100 countries and territories, thanks to the support of 126 Member States and Observers.

Nearly 50 Member States receiving CERF funding have also contributed to it, which makes it truly a fund by all, for all.  Each one of these donors, regardless of the size of their contribution, shares in the achievements of CERF worldwide.

CERF is the only global emergency fund with the speed, predictability and flexibility to reach tens of millions of people each year with life-saving aid and protection.  As High Commissioner for Refugees, I saw how effective this global pooled fund is in delivering aid to people on the ground within just days, or even hours.

CERF is not only the fastest and most effective way to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches people caught up in crises; it is also an essential enabler of global humanitarian action.  Its Rapid Response window allows country teams to kick-start relief efforts immediately in a coordinated and prioritized response when a new crisis emerges.

Its window for Underfunded Emergencies enables scaling-up and sustaining protracted relief operations to avoid critical gaps when no other funding is available.

CERF support goes through a well-coordinated, highly prioritized response system that operates through an enormous network of partners.  One of its greatest assets is that it does this with a minimum [amount] of the bureaucracy that sometimes slows down our work.

Today, unfortunately, despite our efforts to reduce needs and prevent crises, the CERF must contend with a far greater scale of suffering than at its inception in 2005.  The relentless growth and complexity of humanitarian need stems from protracted armed conflict and mass displacement, lack of development progress, social inequality, including gender, disability and high levels of poverty, and extreme weather conditions ‑ amplified by climate change.

Millions of people are pushed to the brink every year.  The mission of CERF has never been more critical.  This year, CERF was one of the earliest sources of funding for humanitarian action in the Sahel where people in four countries were facing acute hunger and malnutrition.  $30 million from CERF played a critical role in averting hunger and malnutrition in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Mali.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck Sulawesi in Indonesia in September, a $15 million allocation from CERF contributed to life-saving response efforts for thousands of displaced people.  In Ethiopia, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by inter-communal violence received food, water, sanitation support and health care services, thanks to $15 million from the CERF in July.  During the year, CERF also supported Venezuelans who were leaving their country in very large numbers.

In total, CERF allocated $26 million to the crisis in 2018, including allocations for displaced people in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.  We anticipate more natural disasters and emergencies will hit around the world in 2019, with greater intensity.  CERF must be equipped to respond quickly, and to make allocations ahead of time, when we can anticipate that disaster will strike.

Two years ago, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an expansion of CERF’s yearly funding target from $450 million to $1 billion.  Last year, CERF surpassed the half a billion mark for the first time.  I thank all donor Governments, corporations and individuals for their generosity, and I thank you all for endorsing the call for a $1 billion CERF and for reiterating support to CERF at this year’s General Assembly.

CERF is about our collective commitment to respond effectively to growing needs.  It is our message of hope and global solidarity that we stand with people trapped in crises and, most of all, that we stand with those who are furthest behind.  As I said during the General Assembly, if I were a Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, I would prioritize CERF in my humanitarian assistance programme.

Sometimes it is difficult to explain to Parliaments how we provide support that is non-earmarked.  Well, of course there is huge pressure from public opinion to address funding to specific crises that are very high in the media attention.  But one thing you can always explain to your Parliaments is that CERF is indeed active in the most dramatic crises, and that the money going to CERF does not go into any kind of global package.   It goes really into the most dramatic humanitarian situations.  We can name them one after another, and they correspond exactly to the areas that trigger more concerns in public opinion.

I do believe that with a little bit more effort, it is possible to explain to Parliaments that the money spent with CERF is very much in line with the priorities of humanitarian aid in each country.  Today I call on you to stand by your General Assembly commitment to raise $1 billion for CERF.  A strong United Nations needs a strong, reliable CERF.  Let’s continue to dedicate our efforts and resources to save lives, together.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.