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PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON CENTRAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE FUND

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

13 December 2007

Donors today pledged approximately $420 million in 2008 to support the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Discussing the high-level conference on CERF held at Headquarters, Mr. Holmes said that the figure compared with $300 million pledged in 2006, the first year of operation of the CERF, and about $350 million that was initially pledged for 2007. The final figures for 2007 might be slightly better.

He said today’s pledges moved the CERF within touching distance of the 2008 target of $500 million, including a $450 million grant element and $50 million revolving loan element. It was hoped that some more would still come in during 2008. With today’s pledges, CERF had gone over the $1 billion mark in its three years of existence from 2006 to 2008.

Apart from the money pledged, the meeting had also been encouraging support for the CERF and its operation, he said. So far, there were 69 donors for the current year. The largest was the United Kingdom with about $80 million, followed by Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

He added that new contributions today from non-Member States included $100,000 from Western Union. The Holy See was also a new donor. Previous non-Member States that had contributed included the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, which suffered from the Kobe earthquake, and the Disaster Renewal Network.

There had also been a large number of contributions from individuals who were able to channel their contributions through the United Nations Foundation, he went onto say. That enabled such contributions to be tax deductible.

Mr. Holmes said that, over the past three years, there had been 93 donors, including 85 Member States, more than half of which were developing countries, including some that had themselves been recipients of CERF funding. Some of those had made modest contributions to show their gratitude for the support they had received from the CERF.

He said that the generosity of donors at today’s conference was good news for those who were likely to benefit from the increased funding. OCHA had been able to use the CERF in a realistic and good way in terms of making rapid, predictable and justified responses to people in need on the ground, whether from natural disasters or from conflict situations. It had also used the CERF to equalize funding for emergencies where there were inequities; some crises were well-funded while others were relatively neglected and under-funded. The CERF addressed that under-funded window.

OCHA was looking to increase contributions from the private sector, he added.

He said that about two thirds of the CERF went to rapid response and one third to the under-funded window. In 2007, about a third had gone to responding to natural disasters and sudden onset disasters, while around two thirds went to complex emergencies.

In response to a question, Mr. Holmes said that the United Nations took 3 per cent of CERF receipts for its own costs -- towards the secretariat that managed the Fund -- before they were passed on to UN agencies engaged in humanitarian work. Those agencies, in turn, often passed the funds on to the relevant non-governmental organizations. United Nations agencies were allowed to take a maximum of 7 per cent of the receipts for their own costs, bringing the total deduction to about 10 per cent, which was a lower figure than the 13 per cent often charged by other organizations in such circumstances.

Responding to another question, he said that both the Russian Federation and the United States had previously contributed to CERF, but the Fund operated on purely voluntary donations, with no assessed contributions. OCHA encouraged countries to make multi-year commitments in order to allow some certainty for planning, and some countries, like the United Kingdom, had made such commitments.

He added that he was not aware of any instances where contributors had tried to influence where the CERF funds were used.

He said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was one of the beneficiaries of the CERF. In 2007, it had already received about $30 million or about 9 per cent of the total CERF allocation. It was still too early to predict how much that agency would receive in 2008, as allocations were based on proposals received which were then judged on the basis of need. Other agencies were also using money for internally displaced persons.

Mr. Holmes said the biggest single reason for humanitarian responses was people who had been displaced, such as in Darfur where there were 2.4 million people in camps. The Democratic Republic of Congo was the biggest recipient of CERF money; most of the money was being used to meet the emergency humanitarian needs of people displaced by fighting. The CERF was not used for long-term recovery funding, but purely for immediate life-saving humanitarian needs. And when funds were given to agencies, there was a requirement that such money be spent within three months.

In response to another question, he explained that in some circumstances, CERF funds were applied to the immediate provision of common services such as the security of humanitarian workers which would make a difference in their ability to save lives. An example was when such staff were operating in a very insecure environment and needed to have secure living quarters or to have armoured cars to be able to travel in very dangerous areas to reach the people in need. Another example was the provision of helicopters so that workers could gain access to areas that could not be reached by road.

Elaborating on the relationship between the consolidated appeals process (CAP) and the CERF, Mr. Holmes said that the CERF reviewed under-funded windows twice a year, looking at how fully the CAP appeals were being funded. In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the crisis there tended to be somewhat neglected by the media, and, in 2007, the CAP appeal was nowhere near being fully funded. That was why the Fund allocated money to that situation -- to make up for that gap. OCHA made such determinations using CAP statistics and available data about the flow of funds to particular emergencies. In addition, it talked to United Nations agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations to get a picture of what was going on. A specific sum of money was then allocated to a State and then that country was then asked to provide a list of projects that could be funded using those allocations. That was slightly different from the mechanism for the Rapid Response Fund.

Continuing with the example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said the situation there had deteriorated since he was there in September; fighting continued and the number of people being displaced had increased.

Asked about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said OCHA had not encountered any problems with the CERF in that country, and there had not been any complaints from any Member State about OCHA exercising its humanitarian mandate there. Essentially, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the CERF provided food to people who were starving or made emergency health care available through vaccination campaigns. And those programmes were monitored extremely carefully.

He agreed with a correspondent that there had been an increasing demand due to natural disasters this year with 15 flash appeals. Fourteen of those had been climate–related, though not necessarily climate change-related. It was not possible to make an automatic link between pollution emission and responsibility to contribute to the CERF.

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For information media • not an official record



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