Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks at the high‑level pledging conference for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, in New York today:
It is always a pleasure to celebrate a success story. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is one of the most effective investments, probably it is the most effective investment you can make in humanitarian action.
I was High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years so I believe I am in a very good position to testify that the CERF was a precious instrument for our work. It was quick, non-bureaucratic, sometimes the only available resource to trigger an emergency response because others would come too late to be effective. It was also the instrument that would allow us to act in forgotten crises that had very little attractiveness for donor funding and it was a very important tool to bring the system together.
To be entirely frank, one of the obstacles for the reforms we have been introducing at the United Nations has to do with the way the United Nations is financed. The way assessed contributions are many times not paid on time which means that we struggle in order to be able to deliver according to our mandates and we feel that in both the regular budget and in peacekeeping operations, and in the way voluntary contributions are sometimes a factor of this competition instead of a factor of focusing our actions and coordination.
And a big advantage of the CERF, it is that the CERF has been one of the key instruments we have to bring the system together and to act in a coordinated way in humanitarian fields in ways which we would also like to see replicated in other areas of activities of the United Nations. So, to invest in the CERF is not only to invest in humanitarian action, it is to invest in making the United Nations work better as a whole.
I witnessed the impact of CERF this year also when it was urgently needed when I visited Mozambique and saw the devasting aftermath of Cyclone Idai. The climate crisis is causing more frequent and deadly hurricanes, cyclones and droughts around the world. CERF is on the frontline of our response. Within hours after Idai hit, CERF released $20 million to help humanitarian partners in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe reach hundreds of thousands of people with water, emergency health care and other essential services.
Weeks later, when Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Comoros and Mozambique, CERF stepped in again to allocate $13 million to ensure that people had water and sanitation, shelter, food and health care. Funding from CERF also helped prevent a famine in the Horn of Africa this year, after armed conflict and severe drought caused extreme levels of hunger.
Following another season of failed rains, CERF allocated $45 million to scale up food and nutrition assistance and provide safe water and other essential services to millions of people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. CERF contributed to the response to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fund also allocated $10.5 million to Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda, to engage with tens of millions of people in order to raise awareness, support regional preparedness and help contain the disease.
The pace of crises has been relentless in 2019. CERF supported people in 44 countries this year, from Yemen to Afghanistan to Colombia. CERF works well. And it has been working well for the past 13 years.
Since its creation, CERF has provided more than $6 billion in life‑saving humanitarian assistance in more than 100 countries and territories. It is the only global emergency fund that is fast, predictable and flexible enough to reach tens of millions of people each year.
Funds from CERF support a well‑coordinated global humanitarian response system with an enormous network of partners to help the most vulnerable people. CERF provides funding without the bureaucracy that can slow down our work, so the money is available within days, sometimes hours, of disaster striking.
The Fund has helped to sustain relief operations in long‑running crises and to avoid gaps in critical services for the most vulnerable people when funding levels are low. For example, in Mali and Sudan, CERF funds provided a lifeline for people affected by persistent food insecurity and malnutrition. In Cameroon, Chad, occupied Palestinian Territory, Ukraine and elsewhere, CERF helped children to stay in school.
In many situations, not only the grants but CERF floats are the way to allow humanitarian operations to survive the gap in funding that we sometimes face. This year, CERF prioritized people with disabilities and targeted 35 ,000 such people around the world with funding.
Humanitarian crises are not gender‑neutral, and CERF recognizes this. In 2019, it allocated $214 million to projects focused on advancing gender equality. In Cameroon, for example, CERF provided equipment and drugs for safe deliveries and reproductive health, psychosocial support and community awareness sessions on gender‑based violence which we know increases in humanitarian emergencies. Such programming strengthens the reach and impact of assistance more broadly.
Our donors and partners are a large part of CERF’s success. I am grateful for the generosity of 127 Member States and Observers, as well as other donors, who have contributed to the Fund. Fifty‑two Member States that have received CERF funding have also contributed to the fund, making CERF truly a fund for all, by all. We welcome all contributions, whatever their size. All donors share in CERF’s remarkable achievements.
Today, CERF is contending with a far greater scale of suffering than at its creation in 2005. Endless conflicts, mass displacement and extreme weather events — amplified by the climate crisis — are increasing the numbers of people in need and making humanitarian action more difficult and complex than ever.
The Global Humanitarian Overview — our most comprehensive forecasting tool — announced last week that a record 168 million people are expected to need lifesaving humanitarian aid in 2020. With overall needs estimated at $28.8 billion, CERF plays a crucial part as the first and fastest to respond.
CERF is also a lifeline for people in the world’s most protracted and neglected crises, those that do not make the headlines and are unlikely to attract funding, but are still creating misery and denying opportunities to millions. In 2019, CERF provided a record $200 million to 21 underfunded crises to help an estimated 13 million people affected by conflict, natural disaster or ongoing crises in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Ukraine and Sudan.
Three years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an expansion of CERF’s yearly funding target from $450 million to $1 billion. I was pleased that at last year’s high‑level pledging event, donors not only increased their contributions to CERF in 2018 to a record $554 million, but also announced pledges of $439 million for 2019.
I thank all donor Governments, corporations and individuals for their generosity. And I ask you to continue to invest in this proven success story. CERF is our collective commitment to respond to growing needs. It is our message of hope and global solidarity with people caught up in crises.
If I were a Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, CERF would be a priority in my humanitarian assistance programme. Sometimes we have the impression that Parliaments are not so keen on providing this kind of support and they prefer to do it for very specific crises and very specific projects. I think it is very important to explain to Parliaments that this is the way in which they can be more helpful to those really in need in the areas where those needs are more difficult to meet. And in my experience in dealing with Parliaments, I was in Parliament for eighteen years and I was Prime Minister for six and a half, I can tell you that Parliamentarians are also sensitive when things are properly explained to them.
I urge you to look at the figures and put your resources where they will have the most impact. We pledge continuously to make the CERF faster, more efficient, more innovative, and more responsive. Please stand by your General Assembly commitment to raise $1 billion for CERF.
The United Nations needs a strong, reliable, responsive CERF. Let’s dedicate our efforts and resources and save more lives, together. Thank you for your commitment and understanding.