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Urgent international action needed to boost UN humanitarian fund

International aid agency Oxfam today called on the international community to commit to strengthening the UN Central Emergency Response Fund’s (CERF) potential for providing quick, life-saving humanitarian assistance for millions of people around the world.

In a report, The UN Central Response Fund One Year On, launched on the emergency fund’s first anniversary, Oxfam shows its performance has been mixed. The report’s findings indicate that the emergency fund has increased humanitarian aid delivery for under-funded emergencies and in some cases aided more rapid response and; in others, payment of funds to agencies working on the ground were patchy and sluggish.

“The emergency fund has done some good work in a short space of time but a lot remains to be done in reaching its full potential during its second year,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International’s Executive Director. “Improvements must be made if the world is to provide a truly rapid-response system to help the 46 million people whose lives are ripped apart by natural disasters and conflict every year.”

The emergency fund was created to increase aid agencies’ ability to deliver life-saving aid during the crucial first days of a crisis. Prior to the Fund’s launch last year, the humanitarian community, which depends on donor contributions, often had to wait weeks – or even months – before they could adequately respond to an emergency. In addition, the Fund is used by the aid community to assist vulnerable people affected by chronic ‘forgotten crises.’

However, Oxfam found that non-governmental organizations working on the ground need quicker access to the funds to make a greater impact in saving lives. Currently, the emergency fund’s money is first routed through other parts of the UN, adding an extra layer of administration, time and cost. Once the existing system is fine-tuned, the Fund’s budget will be ready to grow to US$1bn, leading to even more timely and effective humanitarian response.

“The cost of increasing the CERF’s budget to an ideal of US$1bn would cost each person in the world’s richest nations a mere US$1.14. Those same countries spend an average of US$857 per head on the military every year,” added Hobbs. “When a child is starving because of drought or left homeless because armed groups have swept through her village, she doesn’t have time to wait for the aid to arrive. Every day, every hour, every minute counts towards saving her life.”

Financial backing of the CERF was also mixed during its first year and is nearly US$158m short of its current target of US$500m. Wealthy countries’ individual contributions to the Fund – or their ‘fair share’ – were determined based on respective gross national incomes. Oxfam applauded countries like United Kingdom and Norway; the UK contributed US$83m and Norway gave US$57m - nearly 14 times more than its fair share.

Yet some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including many oil producing states, have lagged far behind. France, the United States, Japan, and Germany have thus far failed to contribute their fair share. Were the US to play a full roll in the CERF it would cost US$195m – less than the budget for the latest King Kong film.

In comparison, the US donated US$10m or 5 percent of its fair share to the emergency fund, while Japan gave US$7.5m or 10 percent of what it should have. Neither country has yet pledged money this year. In 2007, France has so far donated US$1.3m or just 4 percent of its fair share and Germany has contributed US$6.7m which translates to 16 percent of its portion.

In the report Oxfam also highlights the problem of donor nations diverting funds from other humanitarian programs to the emergency fund instead of contributing ‘new’ money in support of rapid response and forgotten crises.

“Shifting humanitarian funding from one pot to another does little to help the world better respond to crises. Filling up a new pot, which exclusively feeds and nourishes rapid response and life-threatening crises that fall outside of the world’s spotlight, does,” said Hobbs. “If there were more new money, quicker disbursement and closer cooperation on the ground, the emergency fund could and will significantly improve the way the world responds to natural disasters and conflicts.”

Oxfam said the emergency fund’s successes include:

  • Some extra aid for “forgotten emergencies”, such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Implementing life-saving aid work more quickly in a few cases, e.g. assistance for internally displaced people in Timor-Leste as well as water and health projects in drought-affected parts of Kenya.

To improve funding Oxfam recommends:

  • The emergency fund and the UN agencies must release funds more quickly.
  • The UN should work more closely with agencies which operate in affected countries.
  • There must be better assessment and analysis of programs the emergency fund has supported.
  • Once administrative fine-tuning completed, the emergency fund’s budget should be increased to US$1bn, with the money not coming from existing humanitarian budgets.

 

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