Donors pledge $380m to emergency fund

Donor countries pledged US$380 million for 2009 to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) on 4 December, a vital source of financing in humanitarian emergencies.

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the pledges were “a ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy global economic climate”. Total receipts for 2008 are just shy of the target of US$450 million, at $446.4 million, according to the CERF website on 8 December.

More countries than ever before promised to contribute – 101, up from 93 last year and more than half the UN membership of 192. In addition, more countries who have been CERF recipients have become donors.

“Despite the very difficult economic climate there was considerable generosity from donors, many of whom increased their contributions significantly in their national currencies,” CERF secretariat head Steve O'Malley told IRIN. “The fact that we didn’t reach the target this year is really much more attributable to the currency fluctuations that we’ve seen in the last few months.”

Holmes said he was delighted with the success of the pledging conference. “The numbers pledged yesterday are not, of course, the end of the story,” he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on 5 December, adding that he expected contributions to rise next year.

Two-thirds of the CERF is earmarked for sudden-onset emergencies and one-third for ongoing under-funded crises that drop off donor radar and TV screens. While it is impossible to predict the former, the needs of the latter are likely to increase in the coming year.

“The underfunded crises will absolutely have to cover more people due to the global financial crisis,” O’Malley told IRIN.

“I think that’s a very real concern that a lot of people share. This economic contraction will really affect the poorest people and increase their needs for humanitarian assistance as well as getting in the way of achieving the Millennium Development Goals [by 2015].”

The CERF, with an annual goal of $500 million, was set up in 2006 to jump-start relief operations by providing funds within days and saving thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay. Since then it has disbursed more than $1 billion for food, shelter, clean water and healthcare for millions of people in 65 countries.

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

Among major donors who significantly increased their pledged contributions were Spain, South Korea, Finland, Germany, Australia and Sweden.

He also noted that the strengthening US dollar could have benefits. For example, the dollar allocation for a recent project in Lesotho reached several thousand more people than originally envisaged, having grown by about 30 percent in local currency terms.

But he warned: “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.”

The UN would try to use the 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”, he added.