Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF)
Funding has always been one of the difficulties in providing rapid humanitarian assistance to victims after a disaster. Most lives are lost in the first days following an earthquake, a flood or any other type of disaster. To save lives, aid workers need immediate cash and supplies. Late funding often amplifies and complicates the problems.
There are several examples where early funding could have made a significant difference. In the case of the locust swarms in the African Sahel, early funding would have mitigated its effects and early intervention would have been much cheaper. An appeal for $9 million by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in February 2004 to spray locust larvae (and prevent their spread) received an inadequate response. That summer, the locusts multiplied throughout eight countries and FAO revised the appeal to $100 million.
In Darfur, it took four months between the time when access restrictions were lifted and funds were committed to the appeal. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) climbed steadily to 1.6 million and mortality rates rose above emergency levels.
In order to avoid similar situations, Jan Egeland has been advocating for the establishment of a humanitarian emergency fund. Human beings should have the same value everywhere, as he often says.
The new fund will save lives by providing immediate funding for initial life-saving assistance during the early days and months of an emergency. It will also help to provide resources to support life-saving aid in crises that have been overlooked or are seriously under-funded, so that all those who suffer receive assistance according to their need—not their creed, politics or the amount of media attention.
So, in late December 2005 the General Assembly endorsed the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). “This is a key achievement that will do much to help strengthen the co-ordination of emergency humanitarian assistance,” said Jan Egeland. “Although this is an important step forward, we need to do more in other areas,” Egeland emphasized. “We recognize that we need to improve co-ordination and to ensure that countries invest in cost-effective disaster preparedness and early-warning systems, which can save countless lives.” The next important steps to get the fund up and running include the establishment of a twelve-member Advisory Group, comprising eight representatives of contributing countries and four experts appointed by the Secretary-General. United Nations internal and external auditors will monitor the upgraded CERF on an annual basis. Additionally, grant-receiving United Nations agencies will carry out their own audits. A CERF website, including financial and expenditure tracking, will provide real-time updates to the public on how funds are used.
The new fund will be launched in mid-January 2006 and should be fully operational by March of this year.