UN chief urges emergency fund support as one of the ‘most effective investments’ in humanitarian action

WFP/Georgina Goodwin An IOM supported piped water supply project in a displaced persons camp in Dolow, Somalia. IOM, WFP and other agencies were able to cover the urgent needs of the displaced people in this camp thanks to the support of UNCERF.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), is “one of the most effective investments you can make in humanitarian action”, Secretary-General, António Guterres told a high-level pledging event at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.

“It is the only global emergency fund that is fast, predictable and flexible enough to reach tens of millions of people each year”, according to the UN chief, who maintained that the fund supports a “well-coordinated global humanitarian response system with an enormous network of partners to help the most vulnerable”.

Since its creation 13 years ago, the fund has allocated over $6 billion to support life-saving assistance in 104 countries, protecting millions of people, sometimes within hours of the onset of an emergency.

Mr. Guterres described it as “one of the key instruments we have” to bring the system together and act in a coordinated way in the humanitarian field.

“To invest in the CERF is not only to invest in humanitarian action, it’s to invest in making the UN better as a whole”, he asserted.

CERF on the frontline

Noting that the climate crisis is causing more frequent and deadly hurricanes, cyclones and droughts around the world, the UN chief spelled out: “CERF is on the frontline of our response”. He said

“The pace of crises has been relentless in 2019”, said Mr. Guterres, noting that CERF had supported people in 44 countries, “from Yemen to Afghanistan to Colombia”.

Far-stretching support

“CERF provides funding without the bureaucracy that can slow down our work, so the money is available within days, sometimes hours, of disaster striking”, flagged the UN chief, citing lifeline support to food insecurity-plagued Mali and Sudan, as well as helping children to stay in school in Cameroon, Chad, the occupied Palestinian Territories, Ukraine and elsewhere.

And this year, CERF prioritized 350,000 people with disabilities around the world with funding.

“Humanitarian crises are not gender-neutral, and CERF recognizes this”, acknowledged the Secretary-General.

He pointed out that in 2019, it allocated $214 million to advance gender equality, informing that in Cameroon, CERF provided equipment and drugs for reproductive health, psycho-social support, and community awareness sessions on gender-based violence.

‘A fund for all, by all’

With the contributions of 52 Member States “CERF truly a fund for all, by all”, upheld the UN chief, while noting that today it is “contending with a far greater scale of suffering” than when it was created in 2005.

He stressed the fund represented a “collective commitment to respond to growing needs”, adding “it is our message of hope and global solidarity with people caught up in crises”.

With a pledge to make CERF “faster, more efficient, more innovative, and more responsive”, the UN chief closed by urging States to meet their General Assembly commitment to raise $1 billion for the fund.

2019’s ‘unprecedented’ demands

Chairing the event, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that this year’s “unprecedented demand” for emergency funding enabled responses to “time-critical, life-threatening needs” for millions of crises-affected people across 46 countries.

“CERF supported aid workers to get ahead of weather-related emergencies like droughts, and also cyclones, earthquakes and floods…[and] helped us respond early to disease epidemics…avoiding a further spread of the deadly Ebola virus”, he detailed.

‘Bleak’ outlook ahead

Mr. Lowcock admitted that “significant challenges” lie ahead, saying “I fear the outlook for the year ahead is bleak”.

“One person in 45 around the world are expected to need our help. The highest number ever”, he said, which would require nearly $29 billion in funding.

Against that back drop, he outlined that the UN and its partners aim to assist nearly 109 million of the most vulnerable people in 2020, sketching out two ways for CERF to transform more lives.

First, he encouraged “getting ahead of crises and taking an anticipatory approach when data and evidence tell us that a high impact shock is imminent”, adding that “early funding reduces responses and costs and supports better quality programme design”, which in turn reduces suffering.

The Relief Coordinator said that a pilot programme was currently underway in Somalia, using CERF funding to mitigate the impact of severe drought there.

Second was to encompass more people, which he maintained requires all programmes to be designed to reach the neediest.

As such, he asked humanitarian and resident coordinators to look at gender-based violence, education for children in long-drawn crises and other protection concerns in designing responses.

Affirming that typically people with disabilities and women and girls are the most vulnerable people in crises, he said, “we need to do a better job to help them because not every part of the humanitarian response focuses enough on those groups”.

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