Why We Need A US$1 Billion Central Emergency Response Fund

New contributors and larger contributions, coupled with innovative financing solutions are needed for the CERF to effectively respond to today’s global humanitarian needs. Many lives depend on it.

A decade ago, 32 million people were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance – today that number is over 125 million. Prolonged conflicts have displaced millions and more intense natural disasters are having a greater impact on people’s livelihoods. Climate change, extreme poverty, water scarcity, food shortages, migration and epidemics require humanitarian organizations to help more people in more places. Last year, the humanitarian sector saw its largest ever funding gap of US$15 billion according to the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing. Behind these figures are the desperate realities of women, men and children struggling to survive. As the UN and its humanitarian partners work tirelessly to assist the most vulnerable, it is vital that resources are immediately available to save lives.

Ten years ago the UN General Assembly created the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) with one mission: to enable timely life-saving assistance to people affected by acute crises, rapid onset disasters, armed conflicts and forgotten emergencies. Since 2006, CERF has assisted millions of people across 94 countries through almost $4.5 billion in grants. Each year on average, the Fund enables partners to reach 20 million people with health services, 10 million with nourishing food, 8 million with clean water and sanitation, 5 million with livelihood support, 4 million with protection, and 1 million with shelter.

Whilst the world’s humanitarian needs have dramatically increased, the resources available from CERF have remained almost unchanged. Each year the Fund aims to raise $450 million for humanitarian response. To ensure that CERF keeps pace with the escalating needs and remains an effective tool able to meet the current scale, complexity and range of crises, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called to double the CERF to US$1 billion.

A larger CERF would better address today’s humanitarian needs. It would have a greater impact while still maintaining its focus, scope and speed. During a crisis, time lost means lives lost. CERF’s advantage is that it is able to respond quickly. Funds for critical life-saving operations can be made available within hours, as was the case in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Ecuador, Nepal and Haiti.

Today CERF has become indispensable to global humanitarian response. It provides UN organizations and their partners with flexible and timely funds to kick start relief efforts immediately. CERF projects are based on impartial and neutral assessments of needs conducted by humanitarian teams on the ground. The funds flow to a vast network of partners, supporting a coordinated response. With CERF funds, responders are able to quickly procure and deliver large amounts of relief supplies for the most vulnerable.
New contributors and larger contributions, coupled with innovative financing solutions are needed for the CERF to effectively respond to today’s global humanitarian needs. Many lives depend on it.

In many cases, CERF intervenes before a crisis makes the headlines. In March 2014, when many responders had not yet launched operations to address the Ebola crisis, CERF provided seed funding to trigger the UN response. And as the situation deteriorated, CERF supported vital aspects of the response such as the humanitarian air service, without which humanitarian operations would have largely come to a standstill. With a stronger financial base CERF could provide more funding in such emergencies.

Since the war broke out in Syria, CERF has provided more than $200 million to support humanitarian action across the region filling important gaps in the international response and improving the living conditions of refugees. CERF is also on the frontline of the response to the current global El Niño phenomenon. Since 2015, it has allocated more than US$119 million for critical life-saving action in 19 countries affected by El Niño. For both crises this funding is only the beginning of what is needed. Humanitarian leaders in countries impacted are requesting more CERF support but the CERF cannot deliver more at its current capacity. A $1 billion CERF is urgently needed to have a greater impact and to strengthen principled humanitarian assistance.

The Fund works to ensure maximum impact for every dollar invested by continuously improving its efficiency and effectiveness. As such, CERF is a crucial part of the humanitarian eco-system which is ultimately accountable to the tens of millions people affected by crises. The Fund’s purpose is closely aligned with the call for change and a new way of working made by the UN Secretary-General in his Agenda for Humanity. This is the crux of what will be discussed in Istanbul during the first World Humanitarian Summit on 23-24 May.

Established as a ‘Fund by all, for all’, CERF has received broad support from 125 Member States and private donors. However, the top ten donors have provided 87 per cent of the Fund’s resources. If CERF is to become a $1 billion fund, more countries and corporations must actively participate and significantly increase their support. New contributors and larger contributions, coupled with innovative financing solutions are needed for the CERF to effectively respond to today’s global humanitarian needs. Many lives depend on it.

By: Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations;
Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Canada;
Kristian Jensen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark;
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Germany;
Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, The Netherlands;
Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway; and
Isabella Lövin, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden.

Image: The objective of the High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Investing in Humanity” is to commit to actions which will guarantee the minimum resources necessary to preserve life and dignity for people affected by conflict and disasters and will maximise the impact of available resources. UN Photo. 

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